In conjunction with the celebration of America Recycles Day, November 15th, the U.S. Senate Recycling Caucus hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill in which Robin Wiener, president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) moderated. The briefing, held November 14th, was to highlight the current state of the U.S. recycling industry from the viewpoint of different stakeholders in the industry, including municipalities, material recycling facilities, consumer brands, and paper and plastic recycling groups.
In her remarks, Wiener highlighted the challenges and opportunities facing the recycling industry. She outlined the four basic elements necessary for successful recycling:
1. Recycling is a commodities business that is driven by demand from manufacturers;
2. The value of scrap is directly related to its quality;
3. The industry is far more than residential recycling; and
4. Recycling is a global business.
Wiener stated, "China's actions exposed a number of weaknesses in certain segments of the U.S. recycling infrastructure, particularly with regard to the residential stream. ... The good news is that innovation has always played an important role in advancing recycling. Many recyclers have already begun to change processes and invest in technologies to produce higher grades. But that takes time and money. Investments within the U.S. market are also being made by paper and plastics consumers and will result in increased demand for scrap in the coming years. European and Chinese investors are also moving into the U.S. market to more easily source high quality U.S. scrap.
"Innovation is also coming from public-private partnerships within the United States. ISRI is proud to be a member of the Department of Energy's REMADE Institute, a multi-year, $50 million effort initiated last year to drive advanced manufacturing within the U.S., focused on sustainability and recycling. This will provide new opportunities for the use of recyclable materials in manufacturing and also more focus on Design for Recycling.
"What is manufactured today, we hope will be recycled tomorrow. As products get smaller, lighter, and incorporate different materials, recyclability can be more complicated ... so we are increasing our dialogue with manufacturers to ensure end-of-life is a strong consideration in product design."
"Keeping recycling strong in the U.S. requires a continual focus on quality, consumer awareness, and market access and demand growth," Wiener concluded. "ISRI is working with our industry and community partners across the country to address many of these challenges, and we look forward to continuing to work with both of you - and all the members of the Recycling Caucus - as we build an even stronger recycling infrastructure within the United States."
In addition to Wiener, the panel included: Stephanie Baker, K&W Plastics; Zach Freeze, Walmart; Ben Harvey, E.L. Harvey; and Annie White, D.C. Department of Public Work's Office of Waste Diversion.