Recycling players are cautiously optimistic that several provisions related to recycling will remain in the final version of the INVEST in America law, the infrastructure bill backed by President Joe Biden and negotiated by bipartisan lawmakers.
The bill contains the full text of the Act on recycling, which includes $ 75 million for recycling education, as well as a section on battery recycling. It also houses $ 275 million in grants for Save Our Seas 2.0, the only major recycling-related bill passed last year. This bill provided for infrastructure updates and other measures to prevent plastics from entering waterways.
Supporters see the inclusions as a clear sign that recycling is being taken more seriously as critical infrastructure after months of calling on the Biden administration to include the industry in the larger national conversation. Investing in better recycling infrastructure can be costly, and developers see federal funding as a way to free up cost barriers to improving recycling in the United States.
The massive, bipartisan INVEST bill is intended to fund roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure, and the Senate was still working on details and amendments on Friday to try to pass it before the August recess. Stakeholders recognize that the complex politics of passing the Infrastructure Bill could mean that one of these recycling-related provisions will drop from the final draft, prompting them to continue supporting separate initiatives and bills. on recycling infrastructure in the meantime.
Strengths of recycling in the infrastructure bill
The version of the RECYCLE law, included in the infrastructure bill, the same as its stand-alone version, focuses on improving residential recycling by authorizing up to $ 15 million per year in recycling education grants over five years, up to in 2026. He also calls on the US EPA to develop a toolkit to reduce contamination and increase participation in recycling, and he asks the agency to review and revise its procurement guidelines more frequently. complete which refers to products containing recycled materials.
Raising consumer awareness of good recycling practices can have a direct and positive effect on recycling infrastructure, said Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, sponsor of the RECYCLE Act and chief negotiator of the Infrastructure Bill , in one Press release. “All too often consumer confusion leads to poor recycling habits, which can damage recycling equipment and cause contamination in the recycling stream,” he said.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, National Waste and Recycling Association, and Solid Waste Association of North America business groups have all supported the RECYCLE Act and its inclusion in the larger bill, but SWANA CEO and Executive Director David Biderman, fears that her inclusion alone will make the impact needed to start many needed upgrades to recycling infrastructure. “We were hoping for more funding, and we will continue to push for additional federal funding to make recycling programs more robust,” he said.
Billy Johnson, ISRI Chief Lobbyist, said the bill’s “relatively small” funding footprint could help it survive lawmakers’ attempt to cut funding throughout the bill. “It doesn’t cost that much and he has bipartisan support, which gives him a good chance,” he said in an interview.
Portman’s influence both as a sponsor of the RECYCLE Act and as lead negotiator of the infrastructure bill is also a notable advantage, Johnson added. “He drives the train on the infrastructure, and it’s the perfect way to keep his bill in the mix,” he said.
The infrastructure bill includes a lot of new funding and initiatives, Johnson said, but the bill also includes funds from previously passed bills such as Save our seas 2.0, which Congress adopted at last year’s session.
Portman was also among the lawmakers to sponsor this bill, which calls for Funding of $ 275 million to reduce, eliminate and prevent plastic waste in the environment, especially waterways, through clean-up efforts and investments in plastic recycling infrastructure.
ISRI, NWRA and SWANA also worked with lawmakers for several months to develop new recycling provisions in the INVEST Act, including numerous battery recycling provisions. The industry has long been concerned about fire safety concerns associated with lithium-ion battery fires in landfills and junkyards, and recyclers predict they will also have to deal with an influx of electric vehicle (EV) batteries. as EVs begin to reach the end of their life.
INVEST requests up to $ 3 billion in total between fiscal years 2022 and 2026 for manufacturing and recycling grant programs, as well as $ 60 million over the same period for battery recycling research, development and demonstration grants to create “innovative and practical approaches to increase the reuse and recycling of batteries ”. An additional $ 50 million would go to state and local entities to establish battery recycling programs and $ 15 million to retailers who collect batteries for recycling.
The bill also calls for the reuse of electric vehicle batteries for “second life applications” such as energy storage in the electricity grid or other uses, proposes a working group to develop an accountability framework expanded producers for batteries and creates guidelines for voluntary battery labeling and best practices. for recycling batteries.
“It’s time for this bill to try in some way to help us develop a battery management system that reduces the risk of property damage and injury associated with improper disposal,” Biderman said.
The recycling and waste industry is also hoping to get respite from the driver shortage, another industry challenge, if it can fight to uphold the DRIVE-Safe law. in the project. The law establishes an apprenticeship program that would allow holders of a commercial driver’s license as young as 18 to operate across state borders. Federal law currently prohibits these operators from driving goods between states until the age of 21, and a change in the law could help alleviate the growing shortage of drivers in the industry, NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith said in a statement. Press release. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tabled an amendment this week to remove it, the NWRA said in the statement.
Investment beyond INVEST
Although the INVEST law has the highest profile Right now, recycling advocates are looking at other ways to advance key infrastructure goals beyond the infrastructure bill.
During a roundtable discussion on resource recycling on Wednesday, Bob Gedert, president of the National Recycling Coalition, highlighted the American recycling infrastructure plan, a proposal from the NRC, Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Zero Waste USA. The plan offers 50 initiatives that aim to fund improvements to the MRF, open reuse centers, provide services to underserved communities, eliminate single-use plastics, promote composting, and more.
“The key message for all infrastructure projects in this overall plan is to lead and demand reuse systems,” said Gedert. The plan would cost about $ 16.3 billion over three years, which he said is less than 1% of the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure plan, and it includes initiatives that do not depend on federal funding.
During the panel, Brenda Platt, who heads ILSR’s Community Composting program, also touted the role composting infrastructure should play in the country’s overall climate change strategies. She pointed out the COMPOST law, which aims to provide $ 200 million per year through 2031 in grants and loan guarantees for composting infrastructure projects, including large-scale composting facilities as well as smaller projects at the community level. farm, community or household. Compost is not mentioned in the infrastructure bill, although Platt hopes it could be addressed in the next $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.
“Composting should be seen as part of the infrastructure,” she said. ILSR “advocates for distributed and diversified infrastructure, and one of the advantages of composting, unlike paper mills or metals, is that you can do it in your community, your garden, your urban farms.
Johnson also hinted at the roundtable that more recycling-specific infrastructure bills may be in the works in the near future, which may provide more opportunities for coordination between the recycling industry and lawmakers. . “This may not be the last rodeo for recycling this Congress,” he said.