Two bipartisan bills meant to improve U.S. recycling infrastructure in underserved areas and bolster recycling-related data collection have been reintroduced in the U.S. Senate.
Lawmakers reintroduced the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act and the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act ahead of Earth Day, saying the legislation would make recycling more accessible, help create recycling-related jobs and raise the national recycling rate. The pair of bills passed the Senate unanimously last July, but they didn’t make further progress in the House despite broad recycling industry support.
The RIAA calls for a U.S. EPA grant program to build infrastructure projects in areas with little or no recycling access, while the RCAA calls for research into a possible national composting strategy and directs the EPA to collect more kinds of recycling-related data and issue numerous reports with the findings.
The new versions set to be introduced today include minor changes from last year. The RIAA now includes a proposed grant budget of $150 million a year from 2023 through 2027, whereas the previous version did not indicate a total budget. The updated RCAA extends certain deadlines for publishing reports.
In an emailed statement, bill sponsors Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) underscored the bipartisan support for the package, saying the nation values recycling and composting but needs better tools to be able to do it correctly. It’s unclear how the bills will fare this year, as the House has shifted control from Democrats to Republicans since the bills were last introduced in 2022.
“With a national recycling rate of little more than 30 percent, it’s clear we can and must do better,” said Carper, co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus and chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, in the statement. Capito, the EPW committee’s ranking member, added that the bills call for “common sense policies and programs to improve access to recycling across the country” while creating well-paying jobs.
The two bills garnered industry support last year from organizations such as the Solid Waste Association of North America, and the organization has renewed its support for RIAA this year. It will review changes to the RCAA before deciding its position on that bill, said Jesse Maxwell, the association’s advocacy and safety senior manager. “Continued federal support for funding and data collection is vital as we work to advance the industry from solid waste management to resource management,” he said in an email.
The National Waste & Recycling Association supported the two bills last year and applauded the legislation’s return. The bills “are both integral to advancing America’s domestic recycling infrastructure and capabilities,” NWRA CEO Darrell Smith said in a news release. The association has been working regularly with lawmakers and their staffs to provide data and feedback on the bills.
What’s in the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act?
- The bill directs the EPA to create a recycling infrastructure pilot program to provide grants between $500,000 and $15 million each for projects that make recycling services more accessible to rural and disadvantaged communities that do not have reliable or nearby access to MRFs. Priority for the grants would go to projects in a community where there is “not more than one” MRF within a 75-mile radius of that community.
- The new version sets a total budget of $150 million per year between fiscal years 2023 through 2027, to remain available until expended. Other details of the bill are the same as the version that passed the Senate last year.
- The bill prioritizes transfer station infrastructure projects and other “hub-and-spoke” recycling collection systems as well as projects that expand curbside recycling collection programs “where appropriate” or leverage public-private partnerships.
What’s in the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act?
- The bill directs the EPA to determine the feasibility of implementing a national composting strategy by evaluating existing composting programs around the country and publishing a report identifying possible barriers to creating a strategy.
- It would also ask the EPA to more formally collect numerous types of nationwide recycling and composting data, including the types of materials local programs accept, state diversion rates, contamination rates and what kind of community access to curbside or drop-off services is available.
- The EPA would also create an “inventory” of the number of MRFs and curbside collection programs across the country and a description of the materials that each facility can process.
- The bill calls for a report on end market sales for recycled and composted commodities and asks for a metric to measure how much material ends up disposed instead of recycled.
- RCAA would establish voluntary guidelines for state, local and tribal governments to “enhance recycling and composting efforts” through labeling guidelines, educational materials and other resources.
- It also asks the Government Accountability Office to issue a report on federal government recycling practices and annual recycling rates of different federal agencies.