December 20, 2012

3 Min Read
Circular File: Passing Time (and Little Else)

For yet another year, state and federal legislators showed little interest in solid waste and recycling issues. Their indifference was probably caused by a belief that they have more pressing problems to resolve, such as budgets, and that other environment concerns are more serious. When they did act, most of the bills they passed tinkered with existing laws.

On the Hill, Congress once again failed to hold a hearing on electronics recycling legislation. The House, however, heard testimony on a draft proposal directing EPA to do a better job of gathering solid waste and recycling data. Even though that bill hasn’t been introduced, the agency has been doing its own internal review of its waste characterization and recycling data efforts. Its conclusions should be unveiled in 2013.

At the state level, the number of solid waste and recycling bills introduced and passed was about the same as last year. However two recent trends in recycling legislation likely will see continued emphasis in coming years. The first is intensified efforts to turn food waste into compost or energy. Massachusetts issued a state plan aimed at increasing its organics recovery infrastructure. Vermont will require large generators of food waste to send those scraps to a composting facility if one is within 20 miles of their generation.

In addition, Maryland established a state task force to recommend how to best promote and regulate food waste composting. The task force’s recommendations are likely to be introduced as legislation in 2013 (full disclosure: I am a member of that task force).

The second trend is growing interest by end markets and legislators
to increase supplies of recyclables. Although Alcoa’s “Action to Accelerate Recycling” didn’t appear to gain traction, the new Ameripen organization has already produced a number of very good resource materials on recycling.

More significantly, perhaps, Vermont legislators passed a “universal recycling” law. As a result, traditionally recycled products such as cans, glass and plastic bottles, newspapers and corrugated boxes along with yard and food waste must be separated from solid waste.

Product stewardship advocates
saw limited legislative success this year. Mercury thermostat recovery was mandated in Connecticut and Rhode Island became the third state in America with a paint recovery law. However, no additional states joined the 25 that currently have electronics recycling laws.
Nonetheless, advocates will be pushing for a product stewardship
law for packaging and paper products. Rhode Island’s state Senate established a special committee to study that option. The committee’s report is due in March. Legislation requiring stewardship for these commonly recycled products is likely to be introduced in Minnesota and other states next year.

What else may be in store for 2013? Privatization of solid waste and recycling services will see increased emphasis as local governments look to lower their costs without sacrificing environmental protections. Flow control appears to be on the wane. Dallas lost a lawsuit over its ordinance and fewer local governments see any substantive benefit in imposing these hidden taxes on their citizens and businesses. Plastic bag bans will remain a hot topic. Mattress recycling laws, which failed in the waning hours of the state legislatures in California and Connecticut, will be debated again. However, recycling and solid waste are likely to be overshadowed by budget issues and battles over implementing Obamacare.

As in the last few years, it won’t be easy legislating green, but it’s always worth the try.

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