The US Finally Adopts a National Recycling Strategy

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new national recycling strategy today, the agency's first ever such commitment, according to the Washington Post. The Verge reports: It's a roadmap for the US to achieve a goal of recycling at least half of its municipal waste by the end of the decade. That's a steep rise considering the US' recycling rate has actually declined since 2015, and was only at about 32 percent of all municipal waste in 2018 (the most recent year for which there's EPA data). The recycling plans the EPA announced today are just the first piece in "a series" of forthcoming documents the agency plans to release to work towards a "circular economy," or an economy where resources are recovered and reused to make new products rather than allowed to wind up in landfills. It's a sort of tacit acknowledgement that recycling alone doesn't make a huge dent in the world's trash problems. There are several key tactics the EPA plans to employ to meet its new recycling goal. For starters, the US will have to do a better job of collecting recyclable materials. The uptick in online shopping has changed where packaging waste winds up. There's less cardboard for instance, coming from shopping malls and grocery stores because of the popularity of home deliveries. That has posed problems for recycling companies because cardboard coming from peoples' homes tends to be dirtier than retailers' trash, experts tell The Verge. Often times, cardboard or plastic that's too contaminated with food or other items can't be recycled. So the EPA intends to do more public outreach and education to ensure more of the stuff people throw out actually gets recycled. The EPA also wants to develop new markets for recycled materials so that it's worth it for companies to recycle. That means there could be new policies or financial incentives on the way to boost demand for recycled materials. The strategy document mentions, for example, a "Demand Challenge partnership program" that would recognize companies for using more recycled materials in their products. Notably, the EPA says it might finally "explore" ratification of the Basel Convention, a 1989 international treaty aimed at reducing the flow of e-waste and other hazardous trash from wealthy to lower income nations. The new strategy also marks the first time, the EPA says, that the agency's recycling plans will connect the dots between waste, environmental injustice, and the climate crisis.

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