Focused on solutions to the complex challenges facing the residential recycling stream, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) on March 4 testified during a hearing in front of the House Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. In his testimony, ISRI Chief Lobbyist Billy Johnson explained what makes for successful recycling, identified existing pressure points in the residential recycling stream and provided a number of clear policy solutions.
“Recycling in the U.S. involves far more than what is placed in the blue bin, or cart, at the end of the driveway,” Johnson testified. “The recycling infrastructure in the U.S. touches almost every part of our economy—from retail stores, office complexes, residential neighborhoods, schools, factories and even military bases. And the vast majority of the recyclable material that flows through the recycling infrastructure does so without any problems, and is transformed by recyclers into clean, high-quality, commodity-grade product used throughout the world as a substitute for virgin materials.”
Serving as the "Voice of the Recycling Industry," ISRI is in favor of several practical solutions and effective policies that will improve recycling in the United States, including: design for recycling; funding for recycling education; recycling-specific technical and financial assistance; affirmative government procurement policies demanding increased recycled content; and commitments to use recycled materials in state and local transportation and infrastructure projects.
In addition to highlighting these policy solutions, Johnson identified elements of successful recycling during the hearing on “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reform: Addressing America’s Plastic Waste Crisis:”
First, successful recycling requires market demand. If there is no end market to utilize the recyclable materials that are collected, they will not be recycled and used again in manufacturing, regardless of the volume of material collected. And collection without market consumption is not recycling.
Whether called ‘scrap,’ ‘recyclable materials’ or ‘secondary materials,’ these valuable commodities are sold and sought after in the global marketplace by industrial consumers—including steel mills, metal refiners, foundries, paper mills, plastic formulators and others—for the manufacture of new consumer and industrial products. The Bureau of International Recycling estimates that more than 40 percent of manufacturers’ raw material needs around the world are met through the recycling of obsolete, off-spec and end-of-life products and materials.
Second, successful recycling requires minimal contamination as recyclables are products sold by specification grade, with their corresponding value and marketability directly related to quality. Industry specifications developed by ISRI are derived from many sectors of the recycling industry including materials recovery facilities, metals, paper stock, plastics, glass and electronics industries and are constructed to represent the quality or composition of the materials bought and sold in the industry. These specifications are internationally accepted and are used throughout the world to trade the various commodities.