- Mathy Stanislaus of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said far more can be done to promote circular economy systems and that continuing to operate the same way without affecting major changes in the supply chain will not be sustainable in the future. "We are living in a hyperlinear economy right now," he said during remarks at "The Future of RCRA" event on Oct. 27.
- As assistant administrator of the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), Stanislaus has been working with other countries to make this happen on a global level. He called for the expansion of markets for secondhand or refurbished materials and more communication between sectors about product design.
- Citing a recent report by the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Stanislaus also said that "extended producer responsibility is viewed as a failed policy" from the perspective of design.
As global material use continues to grow at a faster rate than population, the amount of waste is expected to grow as well. Stanislaus is credited with helping shift the EPA's focus on waste to sustainable material management around the idea that resources are finite and should be recovered for reuse whenever possible. The concept of extended producer responsibility has seen some success when it comes to specialized items such as batteries, electronics and tires but the vast array of packaging materials are still being manufactured in ways that often make resource recovery challenging.
"A lot of the infrastructure, a lot of the policies are still kind of base waste management," said Stanislaus. "Base recycling is good, but recycling is lower down on the hierarchy. So a lot of local government policies are still too low on the hierarchy to really promote the upstream behavior and the upper part of the hierarchy and lifecycle-based practices."
The shift to a closed loop system, which has been projected to have trillions of dollars in potential benefits, is beginning to receive more attention from companies and governments as they look for ways to reduce emissions. Recent efforts to get manufacturers on the same page as recyclers when it comes to product design are promising, though in order to see large-scale change it's possible that more regulation could be needed. While this has been discussed in other countries it's unlikely to happen on a federal level in the U.S. Stanislaus indicated that states may need to be the ones who took the lead.
His remarks kicked off an afternoon of discussion, hosted by The Horinko Group in Washington, about how the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act can continue to evolve in the coming decades through electronic innovations, permitting efficiencies and new supply chain concepts. The EPA will be hosting its own "RCRA Next" event on Dec. 8 to further outline these plans.