EPA creates first national recycling strategy
For years, America’s recycling system has faced challenges such as tight markets, outdated infrastructure, and general confusion about what can be recycled.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla .– The US Environmental Protection Agency says it is trying to “transform recycling in America” ââwith a recently released national strategy. The move is part of President Biden’s $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill, which sets aside $ 350 million for subsidies for solid waste and recycling.
Recycling has always been marketed as a beacon of hope, a way to offset all the waste we dispose of. Instead of throwing garbage bags in landfills, people can have their plastic water bottles turned into something else. But, like everything we throw in the trash, do we really know where all this recycled material is going?
The EPA says no. For years, America’s recycling system has faced challenges such as shrinking markets, outdated infrastructure, and simply general confusion about what materials can be recycled.
According to the United Nations Environment Program, around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced worldwide each year. The Washington Post reports that the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in more than 8 million tonnes of plastic waste.
EPA’s new strategy includes five goals to tackle excess waste. The plan would create a standardized measurement and definition of recycling data. According to a 2020 Government Accountability Office report, less than 25% of waste in the United States is recycled. In 2018, the EPA reported a plastic recycling rate of almost 9%.
Here in Florida, the Department of Environmental Protection attempted to set a goal of achieving a 75% recycling rate by 2020. However, data showed the state would be well below. of this goal. In 2018, Florida was supposed to meet an interim target of 70%, but the state reports that the recycling rate has hovered around 49%.
The challenge according to FDEP is that each county is responsible for its own recycling efforts, and many fall short of those targets. In 2020, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties reported recycling rates of around 50%.
The problem? Contamination. The counties require that all acceptable recycled materials be cleaned and emptied before being thrown in a garbage can. When this does not happen, other items can become contaminated, equipment can be damaged and the quality of recyclable materials becomes unusable. In Pinellas County, authorities say one in five pounds of recycled waste collected is contaminated.
This is why many counties have the slogan “when in doubt, throw it out”. FDEP says you can check which recyclables are allowed in your area by contacting your county’s recycling coordinator.
The goals of the EPA recycling strategy include:
- Improve the markets for recycled raw materials
- Increase the collection of recyclable materials and improve recycling infrastructure through analysis
- Reduce contamination of recycled materials through awareness and education.
- Improve policies and programs to support recyclability and recycling through strengthened federal and international coordination.
- Standardize metrics and increase data collection through coordinated recycling definitions, metrics, targets and performance indicators.