An official website of the United States government.

We've made some changes to EPA.gov. If the information you are looking for is not here, you may be able to find it on the EPA Web Archive or the January 19, 2017 Web Snapshot.

Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System

On November 15, 2018, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler hosted the America Recycles Day Summit that brought together stakeholders from across the recycling system to join EPA in signing the America Recycles Pledge. That day, 45 signatories, 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. After its 2018 America Recycles Day Summit, EPA worked with the 44 other organizations that signed the pledge in November 2018 to form four workgroups. Highlights from the workgroup activities are below.

On this page:


Workgroup Priority Actions

The workgroups initiated their meetings in February 2019. Over three subsequent months, each workgroup developed a vision statement, as well as challenges, opportunities and potential actions within each action area (see the details below). The workgroup members identified four priority actions for initial collaboration:

  • Develop consistent messages for key recycling issues;
  • Create a virtual clearinghouse of information that is publicly available, including case studies, best practices and funding opportunities;
  • Explore opportunities to spur regional and local market development activities; and
  • Compile existing information on a range of metrics and measures for recycling and identify data gaps and needs.

Top of Page


Action Area 1: Promote Education and Outreach

Vision:

This collage shows, from L to R, top row first: stacks of recyclable bundles, a blue curbside recycling bin, a recyclabe bundle in a recycling facility, a hand recycling a plastic bottle, recycling workers on a conveyor belt, and empty plastic bottles.Clear, consistent messages about proper materials management activities enable consumers to recognize the value of reusing, recovering and recycling materials, as well as the value of buying products with recycled content.

Challenges, Opportunities and Actions:

Workgroup members identified challenges related to inconsistent messaging on how to recycle due to localized differences, contamination and limited public awareness on the value of recycling. Developing consistent messages for key recycling issues was identified as a top priority for this workgroup. Additional actions under consideration include outlining a range of benefits for recycling, creating programs and information to highlight recyclables as valuable commodities, and conducting education and awareness campaigns to engage youth.

Top of Page


Action Area 2: Enhance Materials Management Infrastructure

Vision:

A holistic, modern and adaptable national recycling infrastructure that embraces innovation and is resilient to changes in material streams, markets and consumer expectations.

Challenges, Opportunities and Actions:

Workgroup members identified challenges and opportunities associated with resiliency, pricing and localized differences in managing materials across the country. The creation of a virtual clearinghouse for information that is publicly available was identified as a top priority action. Additional actions under consideration include: developing a toolkit for state and local governments, materials recovery facilities (MRFs), and associated facilities; and promoting the design of “MRFs of the future” that can manage future challenges posed by the evolving materials stream.

Top of Page


Action Area 3: Strengthen Secondary Materials Markets

Vision:

High-quality recycled materials are produced that can be easily incorporated into products, driving demand and creating an integrated, robust and sustainable domestic recycling market.

Challenges, Opportunities and Actions:

Workgroup members identified challenges and opportunities related to supporting existing end-markets, as well as developing new end-markets. The workgroup identified exploring opportunities to spur regional and local market development activities as a priority action. Additional actions under consideration include continuing to promote government programs to purchase recycled-content materials and products, such as EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines, exploring economic models to create robust and sustainable domestic secondary markets, and creating and promoting consistent standards for packaging materials and recycled commodities.

Top of Page


Action Area 4: Enhance Measurement

Vision:

Establish standardized recycling metrics that are supported by consistent terminology and methodology.

Challenges, Opportunities and Actions:

Workgroup members identified challenges and opportunities, including new ways of measuring, and the diversity and variety of measurement approaches across the country. The workgroup identified compiling information on a range of metrics and measures for recycling and identifying data gaps and needs as a priority action. Additional actions under consideration include working with states to understand what has already been collected, updating existing guides such as EPA's Measuring Recycling: A Guide for State and Local Governments and fostering common measurement approaches and definitions.

Top of Page


EPA Actions to Advance the U.S. Recycling System

EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management program is implementing a variety of activities that support progress across the four action areas.

In addition to continuing its facilitation and coordination role for the America Recycles workgroups, EPA has identified the following actions it intends to take to advance the U.S. recycling system. The below list is current as of June 2019 and will be updated as the America Recycles work progresses:

  • Develop a concept for a limited pilot project to test an educational campaign on how to decrease the amount of plastic film entering curbside collection programs by encouraging recycling through retail collection programs (e.g. bins at retail outlets and grocery stores);
  • Explore opportunities with America Recycles workgroup members to host regional and state market development workshops to help bridge connections with economic development organizations;
  • Update EPA's tool to calculate emissions reductions associated with the use of recycled content material
  • Develop a Federal Register notice to solicit public comments on the current requirements for recycled-content products purchased by federal agencies; and
  • Update EPA's Measuring Recycling: A Guide for State and Local Governments.

Top of Page