RECYCLING: EPA Initiative Assists Recycling Companies

Recycling businesses throughout the United States are getting a little help from their friends - at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that is.

California, Minnesota, New York and North Carolina have established Reuse Business Assistance Centers, or RBACs, as part of EPA's New "Jobs Through Recycling" (JTR) Initiative, a program to expand markets for recycled materials and feedstocks, stimulate economic development and create jobs in the recycling industry. As part of the state or tribal agencies, the centers will provide technical, business, financing and marketing assistance to local firms that use recycled materials. In the fall of 1994, each of the RBACs received $500,000; total JTR funding was $2.7 million.

JTR also is setting up Recycling Economic Development Advocates (REDA) in eight states, Washington, D.C., and one Native American tribe. These advocates will work to strengthen recycling market development within their respective jurisdictions.

At the Minnesota RBAC, officials are developing markets for several difficult-to-recycle materials, including wood wastes, some plastics and low-grade paper. The RBAC is exploring the possibility of using these materials in composite products, which are made by combining two or more materials to enhance their use. For example, the state will fund a study of ways to increase demand for bagged wood chips and mulches derived from blends of wood wastes and demolition wastes.

Another project will support research on adding structural reinforcement materials to composites of wood and plastic wastes. The program's goal is to move Minnesota beyond its current 40 percent recycling rate.

To help its fledgling recycling industry, North Carolina's RBAC is planning four projects that demonstrate market development strategies, including:

* Increasing recycled feedstock capacity;

* Converting from virgin materials to recycled feedstock;

* Identifying local suppliers of recovered materials; and

* Attracting recycling companies that will use targeted recovered feedstocks.

New York's RBAC will support community recycling businesses that use materials recovered from commercial, industrial and institutional generators. For example, RBAC funds will be used for wood reclamation programs that remanufacture wood pallets and shipping containers. These programs will be modeled after the Big City Forest facility operated by the South Bronx 2000 Local Development Corp., which has created 37 jobs and processed 37,000 discarded pallets and 413,000 pounds of wood packaging materials.

In addition, partnerships will be formed between local paper companies and collection programs to find cost-effective methods to collect, process, transport and deliver high-quality waste paper to mills. The RBAC also will work with 12 plastic processors, reclaimers and manufacturers to expand the use of post-consumer recovered plastics.

On the West Coast, California's RBAC is setting up a network to provide recycling companies with general business advice and technical assistance. The network is particularly helpful to recycling entrepreneurs, providing them with reports and materials testing information from federal laboratories and manufacturing technology centers. Through a telephone and fax hotline, recycling companies can receive publications and referrals, as well as individualized services such as financing, planning and marketing and siting and permitting assistance. "We're working to help businesses profit through recycled content manufacturing," said California's RBAC Director Ranny Eckstrom.

Ultimately, the RBAC infrastructures will outlast EPA's 18-month financial contributions. States will document the RBACs' progress by tracking the amount of wastes diverted and impacts on recovered materials and job markets.

EPA's initiative also provides grants for 10 professional staff positions, or REDAs, in governing agencies in Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and the Siletz Tribe in Oregon. These economic development specialists will develop new recycling jobs, advise new and existing recycling businesses and coordinate solid waste and economic development efforts.

Late this spring, the EPA will award another round of JTR grants, with funding estimated at $1.5 million. Proposals may apply for two levels of funding: up to $100,000, or $100,000 to $250,000. EPA expects to fund approximately 13 more projects. In addition, this year's funding will not be restricted to RBACs or REDAs. To encourage innovative approaches, any proposal that is consistent with JTR's goals will be eligible.