National Recycling Strategy and Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System
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The draft National Recycling Strategy identifies strategic objectives and actions needed to create a stronger, more resilient, and cost-effective U.S. municipal solid waste recycling system. Recycling has been a critical component of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decades-long efforts to implement the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and its more recent efforts to pursue a Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) approach, which aims to reduce the environmental impacts of materials across their lifecycle. Building on the National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System and EPA’s long history of providing data, tools, information and other resources to support recycling in the United States, the draft strategy identifies strategic objectives and actions needed to create a stronger, more resilient, and cost-effective U.S. municipal solid waste recycling system.
The U.S. recycling system currently faces a number of challenges, including: confusion about what materials can be recycled, recycling infrastructure that has not kept pace with today’s diverse and changing waste stream, reduced markets for recycled materials, and varying methodologies to measure recycling system performance. The draft strategy identifies actions to address these challenges that build on the collaborative efforts by stakeholders from across the recycling system that began under the National Framework, which are organized under three strategic objectives:
- Reduce contamination in the recycling stream
- Increase processing efficiency
- Improve markets
Key questions to consider when reviewing and commenting on the draft strategy include:
- Of the proposed actions, which are the most important and would have the greatest positive impact at the local, regional and national level?
- What are the key implementation steps and milestones necessary to successfully implement these actions?
- Is your organization willing to lead an action? Or collaborate with others to implement the actions? What factors would your organization take into account when considering whether to lead an action?
- What are the most important roles and/or actions for federal agencies to lead?
- Are there other actions that should be included in the strategy?
- Do you have additional information or recommendations to inform the development of the strategy?
The National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System, released November 2019, is the product of a multi-stakeholder collaborative effort that began on November 15, 2018. On that day, EPA hosted the first America Recycles Day Summit, which for the first time ever brought together stakeholders from across the U.S. recycling system to join EPA in signing the America Recycles Pledge. Participants included representatives from federal, local, state and tribal governments; the recycling industry; non-profits; manufacturers; and product brands, who worked collaboratively over the course of 2019. All 45 signing organizations, including EPA, pledged to work together to identify specific actions to take in addressing the challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. recycling system.
Through the pledge, organizations committed to leveraging their collective expertise, strengths and resources to address these challenges and opportunities. Workgroups were formed to address four critical areas for action: promoting education and outreach, enhancing materials management infrastructure, strengthening secondary materials markets, and enhancing measurement. These action areas have been continually underscored and reaffirmed as the primary areas of need to address the challenges facing our recycling system.
This document summarizes the activities and accomplishments of the workgroup participants in 2019 and lays out the path forward for continued action in 2020. It also provides a foundation on which additional actions can be identified and taken. It is only through collective action that the needed systemic change will occur. EPA encourages all to build on this National Framework, work with others across the materials value chain and become actively engaged in improving our recycling system.