EPA Sets Higher Recycling Goals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., has issued two challenges for Americans to meet by 2005:

  • Increase the nation's recycling rate from its current 30.1 percent to at least 35 percent; and

  • Decrease by 50 percent the generation of 30 harmful, hazardous chemicals, including lead, cadmium, mercury and dioxins.

To help meet these goals, which are part of the EPA's Resource Conservation Challenge, 12 projects will test creative approaches to waste minimization, energy recovery, recycling and land revitalization.

“Most are new initiatives,” says Deborah Hanlon, branch chief of the EPA's Municipal and Industrial Solid Waste Division. “With the challenge, we were able to formally implement these innovative programs.”

As part of the challenge, the EPA also is asking Americans to conserve at home by:

  • Adopting a resource-conservation ethic;
  • Operating more efficiently;
  • Reusing products whenever possible;
  • Purchasing wisely and;
  • Recycling one more pound of waste per day.

“We are challenging all Americans to take a hands-on approach to help conserve our precious natural resources,” said Marianne Lamont Horinko, EPA assistant administrator for its Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER), when she kicked off the campaign at the National Recycling Coalition (NRC) 21st Annual Conference and Expo held Sept. 9. “The results of the Resource Conservation Challenge and the innovative projects will be less waste, more economic growth and greater energy savings and recovery.”

The EPA will work with states, nonprofit organizations, tribes, local governments and industries to test new ideas that make the agency's waste programs more effective. Developing an equipment-cleaning method for wood-preserving facilities that converts treated woods into less toxic chemicals and examining the productivity of wireless phone-donation and take-back programs are among the projects.

In total, the challenge comprises 68 projects. One of the projects the agency is emphasizing focuses on the reduction of hazardous chemicals. According to the EPA, a 50-percent decrease in chemicals such as lead and cadmium will eliminate 76 million pounds of these harmful chemicals from the environment.

The founding members of this partnership include International Truck and Engine Corp., Warrenville, Ill., and Dow Chemical Corp., Midland, Mich. Over the next three years, the agency expects to recruit at least 100 other partners.

The Waste Minimization Partnership was built on the success of the EPA's WasteWise Program, which seeks to reduce municipal solid waste (MSW) through waste prevention and recycling techniques with its 1,200 partners. From 1994 to 1999, the program reduced more than 35 million tons of MSW — the equivalent of removing 19 million cars from the road for a year, the EPA says.

The agency plans to do its part to meet its challenge by establishing partnerships with industry, states and environmental groups; providing training, tools and technology assistance; and spreading the word through outreach and assistance programs, especially to youth and minority groups.

Specifically, the EPA will join electronics manufacturers, recyclers, retailers and state and local governments to promote recycling used electronics and help manufacturers design more environmentally compliant products.