Danielle Waterfield, ISRI’s chief policy officer, and David Wagger, ISRI’s chief scientist/director of environmental management recently shared how recycling is essential to a group of professionals in Pennsylvania’s capital.

They traveled to Harrisburg, Pa., to host a session at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s (PBI) Annual Environmental Law Forum 2022, at the Hilton Harrisburg on April 13–14. The conference brought lawyers; engineers; professors; consultants; and scientists together to discuss environmental issues and policies.

ISRI’s panel, “The State of Recycling Policy Legislation & Regulation,” focused on the association; the industry; residential recycling pressure points and policy responses; and emerging contaminants in the recycling stream.

Waterfield and Wagger covered a wide range of topics. “We shared how recycling is not only essential for manufacturing but also to a sustainable future,” Waterfield says. “We included updates on federal legislation and the EPA National Recycling Strategy, state policy activities involving environmental justice issues, extended producer responsibility (EPR), recycled content along with design for recycling initiatives, statutory definitions of recycling including chemical recycling, and how these topics impact or are likely to impact recycling.”

Many laws on recycling were implemented decades ago and no longer reflect where the industry is today, Waterfield informed attendees. These laws were written after the enactment and implementation of the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act (RCRA), a public law that created the framework to manage hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste. “We explained how RCRA, and state laws need to be updated to recognize recycling advancements that delineate the advanced manufacturing processes involved in modern-day recycling,” Waterfield says. “Highlighting these advancements help distinguish recycling from solid waste management and show how the industry is improperly being classified and regulated as solid waste.”

Information and Awareness

There’s a lack of education around what is recyclable, which can cause contamination in the residential stream. Waterfield illustrated the problem by asking attendees if they knew what could go into their blue bins. Only a handful were confident they could identify the right materials.

“The response proved the point that we need more clarity on recyclable material outside of the scope of solid waste,” Waterfield says. “I told attendees that they’re the ones with the legal knowledge and understanding to help us fix these outdated statutes and regulations.”

Waterfield closed with a suggestion that environmental law experts must work together to push for clarity and common sense in the statues. “Every policymaker I speak to seemingly agrees that recyclable materials are valuable commodities, yet the U.S. has no single universally agreed upon definition of ‘recycling’ or ‘recyclable materials’ and it’s time for that to change,” she says. “ISRI is advocating for these definitions to get recycling out of solid waste and properly regulated as essential to manufacturing and to a sustainable future.”

Wagger reviewed regulatory activities on emerging contaminants that could impact recycling, with attention to a group of chemicals known as PFAS. He noted that contaminants in the recycling stream, such as “wish cycled” nonrecyclables, or trash, and emerging contaminants, such as PFAS, are generally distinct matters despite both being contaminants.

“It was of great interest to the audience,” Waterfield recalls. “They were engaged and asked a lot of great questions. [Wagger] pulled out points in emerging contaminant rules and rulemaking from EPA that the audience may not have thought of and the facts of PFAS implicating the recycling stream.”

Wagger reviewed proposed reporting and recordkeeping requirements for PFAS under [Section 8(a)(7) of] the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The proposed rule applies to recyclers who imported for recycling or reuse in any year since January 2011 any materials containing PFAS without any thresholds, exceptions, or exclusions. ISRI submitted comments noting that EPA must exclude or exempt recyclers from reporting because recyclers don’t have access to relevant information and any provided information would be too limited to be useful in effectively implementing TSCA.

In March 2022 ISRI was selected as Small Entity Representative (SER) in EPA’s Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel for the proposed rule under Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA).

“We wanted to emphasize to the audience as the legal experts in this area of law, that they need to understand the inherent problems in current solid waste laws that are undermining recycling,” Waterfield notes. “In the policy world, it’s popular to make demands for more recycling such as initiatives to increase use of recycled content. But these new laws exacerbate existing problems because they’re stuck in traditional thinking that recycling must be regulated unreasonably as waste.”

Wagger noted that EPA’s Pigment Violet 29 Risk Evaluation identified recycling as posing unreasonable risk to recycling workers due to exposure to and inhalation of PV29 without personal protective equipment (PPE) and with certain PPE. However, the findings of the unreasonable risks were based on no actual data. EPA did not find C.I. pigment violet 29-specific information for recycling, nor did it identify specific worker activities related to the recycling C.I. PV29 containing products. “You could see the audience was shocked,” Waterfield recalls. “But that was the point.” For this reason, ISRI sought and was selected as a SER in EPA’s SBAR Panel for the PV29 Risk Evaluation.

Demonstrating Value

“We’re the voice of the recycling industry,” Waterfield says. “And we were able to stand before some of the Mid-Atlantic region’s most experienced environmental attorneys and demonstrate that ISRI is the premiere organization for all things recycling.”

Not only did the association demonstrate its expertise but also the breadth and depth of its membership networks. A district attorney approached Waterfield during the Q&A about tire recycling and how she could keep recycling programs within her locality and community. “We gave her some information about recycling processes in her state, did brainstorming with her, and helped connect her with ISRI members who specialize in tire recycling,” Waterfield notes.

Conferences like these are important opportunities for ISRI to educate leaders and lawmakers about the association and the essential nature of recycling. “ISRI can be a resource for audiences of policymakers and influencers, including legislators, law enforcement, and district attorneys,” Waterfield says. “If any members know of conferences or forums where ISRI might serve as a valued subject-matter content presenter or expert, we encourage members to contact ISRI so we can explore the opportunity to collaboratively represent the recycling industry.” Contact Waterfield at (202) 662-8516 or email.

Featured image courtesy: kev72, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons. Caption: Downtown Harrisburg and the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building as seen from Cumberland County, across the Susquehanna River.


Hannah Zuckerman

Hannah Zuckerman

Hannah is a Writer & Editor for ISRI's Scrap News. She's interested in a wide range of topics in the recycling industry and is always eager to learn more. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in History and a minored in Creative Writing. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband.