On Saturday, July 30, the U.S. Senate passed the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act (RCAA) and the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act (RIAA) by unanimous consent.

The passage was led by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) and Co-Chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus; Shelley Moore Capito R-W.Va., Ranking Member of the EPW Committee; and John Boozman, R-Ark., co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus and member of the EPW Committee.

The Recycling and Composting Accountability Act would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to collect and distribute data on recycling and composting rates across the country, and the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act would establish a pilot program to promote recycling in underserved communities.

“It’s important to understand how successful the different recycling programs are before making policy decisions,” explains Billy Johnson, ISRI’s chief lobbyist. “Collecting data on recycling and composting programs around the country will help legislators get the information they need to make good policy decisions.”

The Recycling and Compositing Accountability Act

The RCAA tackles a vital issue for the recycling industry that no recycling legislation has done before. It would lay out ISRI’s definitions of recycling, recyclable materials, and processing. “These terms have never been properly defined in a law or regulation before,” Johnson says. “That’s because different industries use these terms in various ways. We hope this bill will change that.”

ISRI brought members from each commodity to determine definitions that would work for all recyclers. Though it took a lot of time and dedication, these definitions found a home in the text of the bill.

“We were able to work these definitions into the bill and that’s a big deal,” Johnson says. “When you’re writing bill that concerns recycling and composting, first you need to explain recycling. So, what is it? Well, it’s about processing materials, but then you need to take a step back and define processing. These terms are very important to make a law work, and we were able to get proper definitions in this legislation.”

The Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act

The RIAA focuses on improving rural recycling systems by directing EPA to provide grants for projects that make these programs more accessible for these and other underserved communities. “If you’re in a rural area you may live 40 miles away from the nearest recycling drop-off,” Johnson says. “You might not be able to drive that far to drop off your cans.”

Through pilot programs, the bill would examine how to effectively capture the recycled materials in the rural areas of the country. It would look at hub-and-spoke recycling systems featuring transfer stations, and systems that leverage public-private partnerships. The programs will review necessary infrastructure and costs that could improve these systems including bins, trucks, and sorting/separation equipment. “We know there’s a market for these materials,” Johnson says. “And this bill is looking to feed the marketplace with high-quality material and figuring out how we’re getting those materials.”

If passed, the EPA would provide grants between $1 million and $15 million each for projects in rural areas of the country. If the pilot programs go well, they’ll likely be replicated across the country.

“This bill would explore how to make it easier for rural communities to recycle,” Johnson says. “While it might be difficult to drive 40 miles to drop off recyclables, if there was a place only two miles away that might change things. That’s what this bill is about.”

Now that the bills have passed the Senate, ISRI intends to help move these bills forward in the U.S. House of Representatives and will keep members updated accordingly.

Photo by Joshua Sukoff on Unsplash

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.