Recycling Will Receive Boost from New Infrastructure Legislation

November 10, 2021   |   Blog

The long-awaited infrastructure bill could provide some much-needed federal funding to promote recycling in the United States.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a $1.2 trillion legislative package that passed the House and Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President Biden in the coming weeks. The legislative package absorbed several existing stand-alone bills that focused on infrastructure needs, including the RECYCLE Act

The RECYCLE Act, which was originally introduced in March by U.S. Senators Rob Portman and Debbie Stabenow and Representatives David Joyce and Dean Phillips, provides $75 million to help improve awareness of proper recycling. The legislation establishes a new federal grant program that will fund projects aimed at educating families about their community recycling program. The grants will be managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

When Sen. Portman, an Ohio Republican, introduced the RECYCLE Act, he noted that the current recycling rate for all recyclable materials is just 32.1 percent according to EPA data. He said confusion about what can be recycled is a key problem that must be addressed if we want to improve the recycling rates throughout the country.

“Education and outreach are key to improving recycling rates and reducing contamination in our recycling stream,” Portman explained. “One third of materials that households put into their recycling bins end up in landfills and are not actually recycled. This is partly due to confusion about what can actually be recycled. Education is a key component to both increasing the amount of material that is being recycled and ensuring that the material being put into community and residential recycling programs is actually being recycled.”

The bill stipulates that roughly $15 million will be granted to projects each year for the next five years.

Rep. Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat, said the RECYCLE Act will be key in reducing plastic pollution, as well. He noted that many Americans “remain confused about how to dispose of materials responsibly.” Recycling plastic can be especially confusing because each plastic is identified by a number in a chasing arrows recycling logo, but not every plastic is accepted in most recycling programs.

Almost every municipal recycling program accepts cardboard, paper, cans, and plastics numbered 1 (soda and water bottles) and 2 (milk jugs and detergent bottles). Products like glass, cartons, and plastic number 5 are allowed in some, but not all, recycling programs. Products like polystyrene foam (number 6) and PVC pipes (number 4) are rarely accepted. 

There is very little bipartisan agreement in Washington, but both sides agreed that this confusing system is part of the problem. Hopefully, the grants made in the coming years will help more people sort out what can (and can’t) be recycled in their communities.