One of the hottest topics at the intersection of climate change and business is the concept of a “circular economy,” where the core principle is to minimize waste in global value chains. Efforts are ongoing to commercialize recovered materials; to develop safe, responsible, and scalable systems to identify and recover materials; and to craft a policy landscape to encourage, audit, and enforce responsible and efficient movement of materials.

Trade policy can be a tool to help improve sustainability. ISRI cosponsored a July 29 virtual webinar on the topic, hosted by the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) and featuring Adina Renee Adler, ISRI’s vice president of advocacy.

“Recycling is big; it’s important because of the demand by manufacturers globally, and it really saves a lot of energy, greenhouse gas emissions, mining for more ore; it really is the original ‘green’ industry.” Adler states.

The circular economy depends on recycling to get massive amounts of specifications-grade industrial materials, Adler notes. Eighty percent of U.S. recycling is commercial industrial—although residential recycling gets more attention. She notes that 60 to 70% of steel and 50 to 60% of aluminum made in the U.S. passed through for-profit recycling facilities.

Adler points out ISRI’s focus is on responsible recycling that respects local laws and environmental policies. The association promotes worker health and safety, and processing materials to specifications. ISRI helps its members abide by international agreements, like the Rules of Origin in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement in 2020. High demand for commodities means North American recyclers are not hoarding; rather they’re shipping their critical feedstocks for manufacturing globally and will continue that, she says. “It’s all about those laws of supply and demand,” she adds.

Adler says ISRI recognizes that part of the goal of true circularity is to teach the public not only to recycle, but to demand products made with recycled materials inputs. ISRI also works to educate lawmakers in the U.S. and globally about the need for clarity in their legislation, especially to ensure that laws and policies recognize that recycling is not waste. “There is no good economics for putting end-of-life materials or products on a ship and sending them to another country to be dumped in a landfill,” she states.

Moderated by Sarah Stewart, executive director of the Silverado Policy Accelerator, the WITA two-panel discussion also featured:

  • Jessica Bowman, executive director of the Plant Based Products Council;
  • Susannah Calvin, lead at tech giant Apple’s Closed Loop Initiative;
  • Paul Hagen, author, and principal at environmental law firm Beveridge & Diamond PC;
  • Aik Hoe Lim, director of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade and Environment Division;
  • Julian Lings, senior sustainability manager, outdoors brands at apparel and footwear company VF Corp.; and
  • Charlotte Sieber-Gasser, author, and senior researcher and lecturer on sustainable development law at the University of Lucerne.

Adler took questions from several webinar attendees. These included how COVID-19 has affected recycling; the environmental costs of shipping materials; job prospects for developing countries; and how to minimize use of materials.

“The circular economy can have many jobs and economic opportunities, starting with adequate waste management and access to collection for recycling, to small industries focused on reuse and repurposing, etc.,” she explains. “We certainly encourage all to design for recyclability and sustainability in mind. We are already working with brands and retailers to find these opportunities.”

The U.S.-based recycling industry is truly the first link in the global manufacturing supply chain. ISRI aggressively advocates initiatives that promote free and fair trade of scrap commodities. It remains a key component of ISRI’s Advocacy Agenda. For more information on ISRI’s international trade advocacy, contact Adler at (202) 662-8514 or email.

Featured image courtesy of Tom Fisk from Pexels. Caption: A container ship maneuvers at the port of Jakarta, Indonesia. Body image of Adina Renee Adler courtesy of ISRI.


Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; and marketing communications.