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NWRA says Biden plan underfunds roads, while vehicle electrification gets a boost
President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, the anticipated $2 trillion infrastructure package unveiled in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, lacks any overt mentions of solid waste, recycling, organics management or zero waste.
That’s despite environmental groups and adjacent organizations previously recommending allocating millions of dollars to enhance MRFs, organics processing and other potential boosts to local infrastructure. Likewise, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Zero Waste USA shared a letter to the president and vice president following the plan’s release, calling for building zero waste infrastructure and supporting reuse and repair infrastructure, among other policy suggestions.
The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) also expressed disappointment in a lack of recycling-specific points in the plan. “Biden’s proposal fails to take into account the need for increased domestic recycling infrastructure that was highlighted by shortages of manufacturing feedstock during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year,” the organization responded in a statement Thursday.
But a number of broad themes on environment, technology and labor could still impact the waste and recycling industry. Overall, the sweeping plan, facing criticism from some for being too wide-reaching, aims to strengthen the nation’s aged infrastructure while focusing on climate resilience, job creation and consideration of community inequities. NWRA, however, believes the plan does not allocate enough funds to traditional infrastructure such as roads, highways and bridges.
“The waste and recycling industry travels every road in the nation at least once every week, something only the U.S. Postal Service can also lay claim to, making it one of the most significant stakeholders in America’s surface transportation system,” the organization said.
The plan does feature clear emphasis on vehicle electrification — to the tune of $174 billion in total investment — supporting a trend that could shape how the public and private sector alike decide to evolve their fleets in the coming years. Some of those funds will go toward grants and incentives for state and local governments and private companies to build half a million EV chargers by 2030. The plan does not call out heavy-duty trucks for electrification, but does name transit, school buses and the federal fleet.
Some major cities, including New York, Santa Cruz, California, and Charleston, South Carolina, have taken steps to implement EV technology into their refuse fleets in the past year. Canada-based electric truck manufacturer Lion Electric — which counts Wilmington, North Carolina, among its early municipal adopters along with major companies like Waste Connections — sees the Biden plan as “great news for electrification of transportation.”
“The more charging stations there will be, the more confidence it will give to fleets to transition towards electric,” Lion spokesperson Patrick Gervais said in an email. The combination of legislation, incentives and emphasis on a strained supply chain in the plan represent the keys to success for electrifying heavy-duty transportation, and the next step to electrify trucking, Gervais said.
Mack Trucks expressed similar optimism. “We hope federal policies move forward to make medium- and heavy-duty EVs more competitive in U.S. markets, including for incentives and infrastructure investments, and we look forward to working with Congress and the Administration on the details to realize the American Jobs Plan,” spokesperson Kimberly Pupillo said in a statement, citing demand for its new electric refuse vehicle among commercial and municipal customers.
But in addition to proposed funding via a corporate tax rate increase, NWRA also took issue with the vehicle portions of the proposal. The group panned the plan’s apparent lack of tax credits or incentives for private companies to invest in these vehicles, as have existed for compressed natural gas.
Other climate-conscious parts of the plan include $15 billion set out for “demonstration projects” related to climate R&D priorities, which include carbon capture and storage as well as biofuel and bioproducts. Another section focuses on remediating properties in disadvantaged communities impacted by industrial and energy sites, putting $5 billion to brownfield and Superfund sites and investing in the Economic Development Agency’s Public Works program.
Elsewhere in the plan, while specific waste implications of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, did not come up, they are the target of $10 billion in a bid to monitor and remediate the forever chemicals in drinking water. While indirect, emphasis throughout the plan on replacing old water lines with newer, safer ones could ultimately lead to a reduction in single-use plastic water bottles, U.S. PIRG’s Alex Truelove noted.
Local data quality a pressing issue
A new report from consulting firm Eunomia that standardized recycling data throughout the U.S. found states with deposit return systems were among the most successful in terms of actually recycling material into new uses. Maine led the way, with a 74% recycling rate when including cardboard.
The report, sponsored by Ball Corporation, also makes a case for extended producer responsibility policies and other supportive regulations, such as disposal bans or related measures. More standardized and robust data collection from MRFs, processors and municipalities was another key recommendation for states and the federal government to assess.
While many of these discussions may go beyond the local level, a lead author thinks municipalities can take multiple steps to help in the meantime. Sarah Edwards, director of Eunomia North America, said one thing local governments can do is gather more specific waste and recycling data so it can be “useful to state legislators or policymakers.”
Contracts are seen as a key tool for doing this, if they aren’t being utilized in that way already. For example, haulers or processors could be required to provide more transparent data on material composition and MRF residual rates. For streams that may not fall under local control – such as commercial or multifamily generators in some areas – there may still be mechanisms to require additional data through hauler or facility permitting processes.
Another area where local governments can take near-term action, said Edwards, is rethinking weight-based recycling targets and related educational messaging.
“It doesn’t matter what you collect at the curbside, it doesn’t matter what you say someone can put in the cart. It actually matters when it gets to the processor and someone can do something with it,” she said. “It shouldn’t be about diversion, it should be about what we do collect ending up in a product, and hopefully that product is circular.
Organics pilots on the rise
Pandemic-related budget cuts may have affected some organics recycling programs, but plenty of others are moving ahead.
In recent residential pilot examples, Bowling Green, Ohio, is finalizing a dropoff site and giving away 350 buckets for household food scrap storage. Ridgewood, New Jersey, is engaged in a 100-household pilot program that could be scaled up in the future. Medford, Massachusetts, recently put out its own request for proposals to support residential subscription service for organics. Meanwhile, a two-month dropoff pilot to capture takeout containers in Aspen, Colorado, will end after it saw more standard residential scraps than restaurant items, but the town intends to consider other options.
Elsewhere, the focus has been on higher-volume commercial settings. Montgomery County, Maryland, recycled 200,000 pounds of food waste from 11 participating businesses last year and aims to grow the program. Ocean City, Maryland, is expanding a similar pilot with five participating resort restaurants. In Massachusetts, the Cambridge City Council recently gave unanimous support to preliminary exploration of a proposal for city-provided organics collection to 100 small, independent restaurants – many of which could be required to divert material under an upcoming state policy change.
More updates from around the country
- New York City is ramping up efforts to mitigate deteriorating litter conditions following a $106 million budget to the Department of Sanitation last year. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced the city will add more than 100 trucks to weekly litter basket service, restore Sunday service, launch a new Precision Cleaning Initiative for local issues and further support community cleanups. (Gothamist)
- Area residents filed a class-action suit against Memphis, Tennessee, and the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, seeking $38.8 million in damages related to allegedly chronic delays in waste collection by Waste Pro and Inland Waste in recent years. The development is the latest of many ongoing issues related to local service, including Waste Pro’s recently stated desire to exit the contract early. (Daily Memphian)
- A multi-year court case over alleged odors from a Waste Connections landfill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, took a surprise turn when the plaintiff clarified her issue was with another local site – a wastewater treatment plant. General Counsel Pat Shea said the ensuing dismissal “vindicates the company’s position” that landfills are “vital infrastructure for America and are not nuisances.”
- Collection contracts previously held by Waste Management will transition today, with Republic Services taking over service in Battle Creek, Michigan, and Amwaste taking over in Jefferson County, Alabama. Meanwhile, after an ongoing legal dispute, it appears Jackson, Tennessee, will continue its multi-decade relationship with the company in a new contract after all.
- Albany, Georgia expects to save an estimated $500,000 per year by fully privatizing residential waste collection in an arrangement with hauler Concrete Disposal. (WALB)
- After a pandemic-related delay – something happening around the country – an ordinance takes effect today in Honolulu, Hawaii, prohibiting food vendors from offering or providing items such as “plastic forks, knives, spoons, straws, stir sticks, picks or sushi grass.” It joins a growing list of such policies around the country, as displayed in a new map from the Surfrider Foundation. (Honolulu Star Advertiser)