Advocacy Alert – Recycling Legislation Update

By November 21, 2019March 20th, 2020News, Regulatory

Over the past several weeks, legislation addressing recycling and solid waste management has been announced or introduced in both the US House of Representatives and Senate. Additionally, members of Congress submitted a letter to the Secretaries of the Department of Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency expressing their concerns about the state of recycling in the United States. Below is an outline of these activities for review.

Udall/Lowenthal Plastic Crisis Legislation Proposal

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and US Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) intend to introduce comprehensive legislation this fall to tackle “the plastic waste crisis.” The announcement made on July 18 was accompanied by a dozen proposed components, but without actual bill text. Below is a summary of the components with links to applicable SWANA technical policies. The full announcement available here. We have discussed the proposal with Congressional staff and will continue to engage on this as it proceeds.

  • Obligations for Producers: Producers will be required to design, manage, and finance programs for end-of-life management of their products and packaging as a condition of sale. Producers will help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, as well as awareness raising measures. T-2.1 – Product Stewardship
  • Nationwide Container Deposit Requirements: Place a national deposit requirement on beverage containers (all materials, including glass, plastic and aluminum).
  • Carryout Bag Fee: A fee will be placed on the distribution of available carryout bags (paper bags and non-reusable bags). T-2.2 – Deposit Systems
    Plastic ban of certain products: Where alternatives are readily available and affordable, the most commonly polluted single-use plastic products will be banned from the market.
  • Styrofoam: Ban use of expanded polystyrene.
  • Labelling Requirements: Consumer products made from plastic will require clear and standardized labelling which indicates how waste should be disposed and the presence of plastics in the products.
  • Awareness-raising Measures: States will be encouraged to raise consumers’ awareness about the negative impact of littering as well as about available re-use systems and waste management option.
  • Collection Targets: Set goals for states to collect a high percentage of single-use plastic drink bottles. Set targets to standardize recycling collection across communities and states. T-6.4 – Measuring Recycling
  • Requirements: Set requirements for certain products to be made of 100% recyclable materials and others made from a significant percentage post-consumer recycled product.
  • Federal Fund: A federal fund will ensure resources are available for pollution reduction, remediation programs and innovation research.
  • Protect Local Governments and Political Subdivisions: States that prohibit local governments from implementing measures to reduce plastic products will lose federal funding.
  • Encourage Local Government Action: Create Clean Cities Program to use smart technology and social media to help local governments cost-effectively identify pollution hot spots and implement source reduction solutions.

Save Our Seas 2.0 Act

In an effort to further address marine debris, the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act has been introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and by Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Don Young (R-AK). Among other goals, this bill is intended to strengthen domestic infrastructure to prevent the creation of new marine debris and would direct the EPA to develop a strategy within one year to improve waste management and recycling infrastructure, harmonize waste collection and recycling protocols, strengthen markets for recycled plastic, and identify barriers to increasing the collection of recyclable materials. Additionally, it would create a Waste Management Revolving Fund and a Waste Management Infrastructure Grant program. SWANA is currently engaging with the offices of the sponsoring legislators and will provide further updates on this bill as it develops.

Zero Waste Act

The Zero Waste Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) on July 25th in order to create federal grants to support municipalities in recycling and waste reduction efforts. The program would be carried out by the U.S. EPA and would be funded with up to $250 million from 2020 through 2027. Similar legislation was previously introduced in 2017 as the Zero Waste Development and Expansion Act. This legislation was described as another component of the Green New Deal. A meeting with the Congressional staff has been scheduled to discuss the contents of the bill further.

Congressional Letter to Commerce & EPA

On July 12, over 40 members of Congress signed letters sent to the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler expressing serious concerns about the state of recycling in the United States and to better understand how they are responding to the impacts of China’s National Sword policy. The Department of Commerce is mandated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to encourage greater commercialization of proven recycling technology as well as stimulate the development of markets for recycled materials in the United States. RCRA also made EPA the federal leader in the conservation and recovery of materials. The letter requests a reply to several questions about the actions of both EPA and Commerce since China’s policy was announced.


SWANA continues its support of the Realizing the Economic Opportunities and Value of Expanding Recycling (RECOVER) Act on Capitol Hill. Its goal is to provide funding to sustain public and private investment needed to modernize and expand the existing domestic recycling infrastructure and for public education and outreach. Sponsors have been identified in both the House and Senate with a goal of introducing the bill sometime after the August recess. The Core Advocacy Group will be notified when that occurs.

The flurry of activity surrounding recycling at the federal level, including EPA’s ongoing efforts, is a unique opportunity for SWANA to educate lawmakers and others about the benefits and challenges facing recycling right now. As a member of the Core Advocacy Group, we appreciate your engagement and look forward to your feedback and insights on these issues as they continue to develop.

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