UPDATE: May 21, 2019: SB 649 has been filed without the governor's signature. It is effective Sept. 1, 2019.
- Two bills (HB 286 and SB 649) working through the Texas legislature would mandate researching methods to encourage the use of recyclables as inputs for the creation of new products — part of a larger plan to invest in, expand and promote the state's recycling economy.
- The State of Texas Alliance for Recycling (STAR) is a driving force behind the legislation, with its Business Council members conducting active advocacy. The Closed Loop Fund, The Recycling Partnership, Waste Connections, FCC Environmental and Balcones Resources are among its supporters.
- HB 286 was approved by the House Environmental Regulations Committee at the end of March and will be heard on the floor April 23. SB 649, which was recently voted out of the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee, is scheduled for a hearing on April 11.
If passed, this legislation would require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to examine the current recycling economy, discover opportunities for growth and draft a proposal for action. It specifically calls on the agency to:
Catalog materials that are being recycled,
Investigate what materials are generated but not being recycled,
State the economic benefits of recycling,
Determine the available capacity of existing manufacturers to use sorted recyclables as raw materials,
Ascertain what is preventing use of recyclable materials to make new products, and offer solutions to remove impediments,
Suggest companies or facilities needed to ensure generated recyclable materials are used to make new products, and
Provide recommendations for increasing use of recyclable materials overall and growing the number of companies that consume recyclables as feedstock.
In addition, the bill requests an education campaign that encourages clean materials in the recycling stream. The messaging must emphasize negative outcomes associated with contaminated recyclables, attention to businesses using recycled commodities in their manufacturing processes and the specific economic benefits of the recycling industry in Texas. Cleaner recyclables equal more material volume that can be utilized in the manufacturing sector, making education a crucial component to strengthening the economy in the long term.
TCEQ and the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office would be required to deliver a plan update to the governor as well as to the Municipal Solid Waste Management and Resource Recovery Advisory Council (MSWRRAC) by Sept. 2020. MSWRRAC is comprised of public and private industry professionals who provide recommendations to TCEQ and review policies relating to municipal solid waste management and resource recovery.
More than 60 companies and organizations have now provided support for the bills, as well as the Texas Association of Manufacturers, the Texas Municipal League and SWANA's Lone Star Chapter. STAR and other organizations are calling on supporters to contact elected officials and emphasize the economic opportunities enacting the legislation could bring to the industry and state.
Texas's $3.3 billion recycling industry would benefit from the recurring opportunity for state-level analysis of the markets and a critical look at the missing pieces that could strengthen it. A recent study conducted in north Texas found that a significant amount of recyclable material is being landfilled every year under the current system, building on another recently published statewide study mandated by the legislature in 2015.
The movement is the latest in a series of state-level proposals to advance in recent months, with more governments looking for ways to strengthen recycling systems. In contrast to Texas, a bill in Florida would hold local governments responsible for proper recycling from program participants, require a definition and action plan for contamination, and excuse haulers from collecting or transporting contaminated recyclable material. Washington's Department of Ecology has also proposed legislation to encourage end market development with the creation of an advocacy/research group that would work directly with the state; the bill also includes a statewide education plan to reduce contamination that local governments must adopt if they do not create their own.
Full disclosure: Catelyn Scholwinski is chair of STAR’s San Antonio council.