A time for transition

Departments - Editor’s Letter

December 6, 2021

For years, corporate interests, lagging legislation and tepid consumer engagement have served as a breakwall holding back the tide of environmental progressivism in the U.S. While diversion-centric measures have been the norm in Europe and Asian countries such as South Korea for some time, cheap landfills and a lack of political will have traditionally led to lackluster participation in recycling programs and a laissez-faire approach to waste among both commercial businesses and residents in the States.

However, a recent groundswell to take more action to negate the effects of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, as well as a desire for a more circular approach to waste, has suddenly culminated in the intersection of public policy and corporate diplomacy aimed at advancing ESG initiatives.

On Nov. 15, President Biden signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law. In addition to improving roads and bridges, reducing the impacts of climate change and building out a national network of electric vehicle charging stations, the legislation contains provisions of the RECYCLE Act to better educate residents on recycling best practices. Simultaneously, the bill contains grants for battery recycling, places an emphasis on reducing waste and promises investment to clean up Superfund and brownfield sites throughout the country.

The same day as Biden signed the infrastructure bill, the U.S. EPA released its 2021 National Recycling Strategy. The strategy seeks to create a “stronger, more resilient and cost-effective municipal solid waste and recycling system” that can achieve a 50 percent national recycling rate by 2030; cut food loss and waste; and reduce the climate impacts of materials production, consumption, use and disposal, among other initiatives.

For corporations, pressure to showcase a commitment to ESG initiatives for both positive PR and stakeholder appeasement has resulted in companies prioritizing recycling goals, emissions reduction targets and diversity hiring. As investment based on these factors continues to grow, scrutiny from the Security and Exchange Commission increases while prospective global standards lurk on the horizon.

While systemic change takes time, the confluence of legislation and a focus on corporate responsibility is helping set the stage for a new standard on how waste and recycling are handled in America.

“We all know that improving markets, reducing contamination and improving the efficiency at MRFs is important. Now, for the first time, the federal government is visibly and financially supporting state and local efforts to improve recycling, which must always compete with other local priorities such as schools and law enforcement for funding,” SWANA CEO David Biderman recently told Waste Today.

While one law, national strategy or corporate pledge may not revolutionize the U.S. waste industry on its own, collectively, they’re helping ensure a more sustainable future for the next generation.