As the Voice of the Recycling IndustryTM, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) was briefed the Recycling Caucus on The State of U.S. Recycling. Hosted by Recycling Caucus Co-Chairs, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), the event focused on the many of the economic and environmental benefits of recycling while addressing how changes to global environmental and trade policies are changing the industry’s landscape.
In addition to ISRI, the event brought together other key stakeholders including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DC Public Works, Southeast Recycling Development Council, The Recycling Partnership, and the Paper Recycling Coalition. Below are excerpts from ISRI President Robin Wiener’s remarks before the Caucus:
Recycling in the United States is an important economic engine and job creator. The recycling industry directly employs more than 164,000 Americans in jobs averaging $73,000 in wages and benefits annually, while generating $110 billion in economic activity and $13 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue.
These numbers tell the story of a strong U.S. recycling industry, but not one without challenges in key segments of the industry. To understand those challenges, it is important to first understand what makes for successful recycling:
- Successful recycling requires market demand … if there is no end market to utilize the recyclable materials that are collected, they will not move, regardless of the volume of material collected. And collection without consumption is not recycling.
- Successful recycling requires minimal contamination as recyclables are products sold by grade, with corresponding value and marketability directly related to quality.
- Recycling in the U.S. involves far more than what is placed in the blue bin, or cart, at the end of the driveway. While residential collection programs may be the most visible part of America’s recycling infrastructure, it represents less than 30% of the volume of material recycled in our country. The other 70% comes from the recycling of commercial and industrial materials that tends to be cleaner, and therefore can be processed to higher grades with greater marketability.
The recycling infrastructure in the U.S. touches almost every part of our economy – from retail stores, office complexes, residential neighborhoods, and schools to factories, construction and demolition sites, and even military bases. And the vast majority of the recyable material that flows through the infrastructure does so without any problems, and is transformed by recyclers into clean, high quality, commodity grade product.
What makes the residential stream so different is that while it is subject to the same demand driven end market, it is saddled with an ever changing and heterogeneous mix of materials on the supply side, and that material flows into the stream whether there is a market for it or not. This sets the residential recycling infrastructure apart from commercial and industrial recycling in the U.S., and that is why it demands a unique approach.
It is critical that all stakeholders must work together to develop a common understanding of the weaknesses affecting the residential stream, and then work together to develop the menu of solutions that need to be put in place. And that is where the work of the EPA over the last year comes into play. EPA’s America Recycles Stakeholder Dialogue has worked to bring us all together, and it is the reason why ISRI is so heavily invested in it. Successful recycling requires a focus on education, quality, demand growth, and market access; and we are pleased to be working with EPA on all these issues.
I also want to applaud the Department of Energy for the work they are doing to help support innovation in recycling. ISRI is proud to be a member of the DOE’s REMADE Institute, a multi-year, $50 million effort initiated two years ago to drive advanced manufacturing within the U.S. This effort will provide new opportunities for the use of recyclable materials in manufacturing and also a greater focus on Design for Recycling.
It may surprise people to know that recycling plays such an important role in advanced manfacturing, but the reason that DOE is doing this is in part because they recognize the value not only of recycling but of recyables, which goes to the myth I want to break this afternoon, and that is that recyables are wastes, and that the only reason why they are recycled is to avoid the alterantive of throwing them away. The truth is that these materials are not waste.
Whether called “scrap,” “recyclable materials” or “secondary materials,” they are valuable commodities sold and sought after in the global marketplace by industrial consumers – including steel mills, metal refiners, foundries, paper mills, plastic formulators, and others – for the manufacture of new consumer and industrial products. The Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) estimates that more than 40% of manufacturers’ raw material needs around the world are met through the recycling of obsolete, off-spec, and end-of-life products and materials.
Worldwide, more than 800 million metric tons of recyclable materials are consumed each year by manufacturers. And just like coffee, crude oil, and other commodities, the movement of recyclables is driven by the demand needs of consumers in the U.S. and around the globe with the U.S. playing a major role in this global market, selling $20 billion worth of scrap to manufacturers in more than 150 different countries.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.