The Glass Packaging Institute, with input from the Recycling Roundtable,¹ led an effort to introduce a bill into the House of Representatives called “The Improving Manufacturing Competitiveness through Improved Recycling Data Act of 2012.” This bill is currently in draft form, though the first hearing on the draft was held June 27, 2012 by the House Subcommittee on the Environment and the Economy.
Acknowledging that the EPA’s current methods of collecting recycling data is insufficient, and—perhaps—to be proactive in shaping the EPA’s efforts to reconfigure the way it collects and reports recycling data, the discussion draft of the Recycling Data Act gives the EPA two years to begin collecting and reporting the following recycled material data:
- Tonnage of recyclable materials (aluminum, glass, paper, plastic and steel) diverted by each type of municipal collection system (dual stream curbside, single stream curbside, container deposit, drop-off or any other system)
- Tonnage of recyclable materials that are recovered by manufacturers, broken down by type of material and type of collection system
- Manufacturer recovery rate achieved for each type of recyclable material from each type of collection system
- Tonnage of recyclable materials disposed of in landfills directly after use, broken down by type of recyclable material
- Tonnage of recyclable material disposed of in landfill, following diversion, sorting, separation, cleaning or any beneficiation, broken down by type of material and type of collection system.
- Tonnage of recyclable materials that go into other identifiable end uses
- Energy consumed and costs incurred to collect and beneficiate recyclable materials, broken down by type of material and collection system.
As the preceding list suggests, the industry is especially interested in determining how much of the recycled material that is diverted from landfills from each type of collection system is actually usable in manufacturing processes. If, for instance, more tons are recoverable with dual stream collection systems than with single-stream collection, municipalities might be better off moving to dual stream. Hence, it may be possible to recover and actually use more of this material in manufacturing processes, which is the goal of this draft bill. Certainly, the type of data covered by the draft bill would be actionable in a way that the current report is not.
The bill also changes the way the EPA would collect data. The draft bill directs that the report be based on “information provided voluntarily pursuant to an information collection request” (considered confidential business information or CBI) or “data published by government entities and trade associations.” Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, all agencies are limited to contacting just nine entities for any given subject. That means that the EPA bases many of the assumptions it makes about the wide range of recycled materials on information gleaned from just nine entities. This bill would give the EPA the ability to send out many more requests for information (although the number is not specified). As a result, the data collected would be more robust than it is now.
Just because the agency can ask more entities for information, however, does not mean that all the questions will be answered. In the hearing about the draft legislation, the necessity of participation being “voluntary” was reiterated by nearly everyone in the room.
Only two people raised questions about this. Mathy Stanislaus, the Assistant Administrator at the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, testified that the bill would “fall short of its goal to provide the enhanced data needed to help more informed decision-making and increase the use of recyclable materials” if it does not give the EPA the authority to require participation. John H. Skinner, the Executive Director of The Solid Waste Association of North America reiterated this point in his comments to the committee as well: “whether this type of information can be obtained from voluntary information requests and existing published data is questionable. We suggest that the Committee consult with EPA on the schedule and budget, and consider incentives that would significantly increase voluntary information submittals. We do recognize that this bill would provide EPA with the authority to conduct more wide-scale voluntary surveys, but the question is how to increase response rates.”
While giving the EPA the ability to send additional requests for information, the bill draws the line at just how much authority the EPA will have as a result of this bill: “Nothing in this Act shall be interpreted to provide the Administrator [of the EPA], the Secretary of Energy, or the Secretary of Commerce with any authority to regulate recycling goals or rates, energy use goals or rates, recycling content, or recycling collection programs, or to set minimum recycled content requirements.”
Lynn Bragg, President of the Glass Packaging Institute believes this legislation will assist communities making decisions about their recycling programs: “Ultimately, this legislation will provide important and new data points on the results of recycling systems . . . [and] provide additional insight and information to decision makers at the local level, as they choose a recycling program that is right for their community.”
These efforts will also lead to the "increased use of recycled materials in manufacturing processes," according to John Skinner, Executive Director of the Solid Waste Association of North America. He noted, "We do recognize the limitations of the current recycling data, and agree that improved data would lead to more informed decision-making by policy makers, and help the private sector users of recyclables increase their understanding of what recyclable materials will be available."
While Congress may be on the verge of specifying the types of changes that will be made to the EPA's MSW Characterization Report, the EPA is revising the methodology it uses to compile the Report. Read more here.
¹An advocacy group comprised of the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI), the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), the Aluminum Association, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), the National Solid Waste Management Association (NSWMA), the American Forestry and Paper Association (AF&PA) and the Paper Recycling Coalition (PRC).
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