Biden signs infrastructure bill into law
President Biden officially signed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law on Nov. 15. The bill, which had been the center of partisan debate for much of Biden’s presidency, was passed by Congress Nov. 5.
The bill promises to help rebuild roads, bridges and rail; expand access to high-speed internet; reduce the impacts of climate change; advance the availability of clean drinking water and promote a variety of national sustainability efforts.
Specific to the waste and recycling sector, the bill contains provisions of the RECYCLE Act, which will help provide grants via the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help educate households and consumers about their residential and community recycling programs to improve participation and reduce contamination. It also calls for the EPA to develop a model recycling program toolkit for states, local governments, Indian tribes and partners to deploy to improve recycling rates and decrease contamination in the recycling stream.
The bill also contains grants to encourage battery recycling and promotes the DRIVE-Safe Act, which directs the Department of Transportation to help implement an apprenticeship program for licensed commercial motor vehicle drivers under the age of 21 to alleviate the driver shortage across industry, including in waste and recycling.
Upon signing the legislation, Biden outlined various priorities of the infrastructure initiative, including an emphasis on avoiding waste, buying American, creating good-paying jobs and building resilient infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of climate change.
To help with the rollout and implementation of the infrastructure legislation, Biden announced the coordination of an Infrastructure Implementation Task Force. This task force will be co-chaired by National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and the White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu.
Previously, Biden noted that the infrastructure bill will help:
- Deliver clean water to all American families and eliminate the nation’s lead service lines. Currently, up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and childcare centers lack safe drinking water. The infrastructure deal will invest $55 billion to expand access to clean drinking water for households, businesses, schools and childcare centers all across the country.
- Deliver $65 billion to help ensure that every American has access to reliable high-speed internet through a historic investment in broadband infrastructure deployment. The legislation will also help lower prices for internet service so that more Americans can afford internet access.
- Repair and rebuild roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity and safety for all users. In the United States, one in five miles of highways and major roads and 45,000 bridges are in poor condition. The legislation will reauthorize surface transportation programs for five years and invest $110 billion in additional funding to repair roads and bridges and support major projects. The deal makes the largest investment in repairing and reconstructing U.S. bridges since the construction of the interstate highway system. It will help rebuild the most economically significant bridges in the country as well as thousands of smaller bridges. The legislation also includes the first “Safe Streets and Roads for All” program to support projects to reduce traffic fatalities, which claimed more than 20,000 lives in the first half of 2021.
- Improve transportation options for millions of Americans and reduce greenhouse emissions through the largest investment in public transit in U.S. history. America’s public transit infrastructure is inadequate, with a multibillion-dollar repair backlog representing more than 24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars, 200 stations and thousands of miles of track, signals and power systems in need of replacement. The transportation sector in the United States is now the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation includes $39 billion of new investment to modernize transit, in addition to continuing the existing transit programs for five years as part of surface transportation reauthorization. In total, the new investments and reauthorization in the deal provide $89.9 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit over the next five years. The legislation will expand public transit options across every state; replace thousands of deficient transit vehicles, including buses, with clean, zero-emission vehicles; and improve accessibility for the elderly and people with disabilities.
- Upgrade U.S. airports and ports to strengthen supply chains and prevent disruptions that have caused inflation. According to the Biden administration, this will improve U.S. competitiveness, create more and better jobs at these hubs and reduce emissions. The legislation invests $17 billion in port infrastructure and waterways and $25 billion in airports to address repair and maintenance backlogs, reduce congestion and emissions near ports and airports and drive electrification and other low-carbon technologies.
- Make the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak 50 years ago. The legislation will invest $66 billion in additional rail funding to eliminate the Amtrak maintenance backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor and bring better rail service to areas outside the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
- Invest $7.5 billion to build out a national network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers in the United States. This is a critical step to fighting the climate crisis and creating good U.S. manufacturing jobs, the Biden administration says. The legislation will provide funding for deployment of EV chargers along highway corridors to facilitate long-distance travel and within communities to provide convenient charging where people live, work and shop. This investment will support the president’s goal of building a nationwide network of 500,000 EV chargers to accelerate the adoption of EVs, reduce emissions, improve air quality and create quality jobs across the country.
- Upgrade U.S. power infrastructure to deliver clean, reliable energy across the country. According to the Department of Energy, power outages cost the U.S. economy up to $70 billion annually. The deal’s more than $65 billion investment includes the largest investment in clean energy transmission/grids in American history. It will upgrade U.S. power infrastructure by building thousands of miles of new transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewables and clean energy while lowering costs.
- Make communities safer and infrastructure more resilient to the impacts of climate change and cyberattacks with an investment of over $50 billion to protect against droughts, heat, floods and wildfires and weatherization.
- Deliver the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history by cleaning up Superfund and brownfield sites, reclaiming abandoned mines and capping orphaned oil and gas wells. In thousands of rural and urban communities around the country, hundreds of thousands of former industrial and energy sites are now idle. The bill will invest $21 billion to clean up Superfund and brownfield sites, reclaim abandoned mine land and cap orphaned oil and gas wells. These projects will remediate environmental harms, address the legacy pollution that harms the public health of communities and create jobs. According to the Biden administration, this investment will benefit communities of color, as it has been found that 26 percent of Black Americans and 29 percent of Hispanic Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site, a higher percentage than for Americans overall.
EPA releases National Recycling Strategy
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 2021 National Recycling Strategy Nov. 15. The strategy is designed to address major recycling challenges, including contamination, to create “a stronger, more resilient and cost-effective municipal solid waste recycling system,” the agency says. Its goal is to achieve a 50 percent national recycling rate by 2030. The strategy also addresses the climate impacts of producing, using and disposing of materials and the human health and environmental impacts of waste and waste-related facilities in overburdened communities.
According to the strategy, “The National Recycling Goal and the National Recycling Strategy are integrated and support the ultimate goal of improving recycling and increasing circularity within the United States. The methodology to measure the recycling goal and its key metrics is under development and expected to be finalized later this year. In the development of the implementation plan, EPA will bring the recycling goal and National Recycling Strategy together into a comprehensive plan. As EPA moves beyond recycling to develop additional strategies, EPA also will develop a new goal to reduce the climate impacts from materials production, consumption, use and disposal that will complement the focus on a circular economy approach. This new goal will complement the National Recycling Goal, as well as the U.S. goal to halve food loss and waste by 2030.”
In 2018, in response to recent international policy changes and other challenges, EPA focused on U.S. recycling, hosting the inaugural America Recycles Day Summit in 2018. That was followed by publishing the “National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System” in 2019, which is a collaborative effort by stakeholders from across the recycling system that highlighted the need to promote education and outreach, enhance infrastructure, strengthen materials markets and enhance measurement.
The 2021 National Recycling Strategy adds environmental justice and circular economy focuses.
The EPA says among the challenges the U.S. recycling system faces are reduced markets for recyclables, recycling infrastructure that has not kept pace with today’s changing material stream, confusion about what materials can be recycled and varying methodologies to measure recycling system performance. The 2021 National Recycling Strategy identifies actions designed to address these challenges under its five strategic objectives:
- improve markets for recycled commodities through market development, analysis, manufacturing and research;
- increase collection of recyclables and improve recycling infrastructure through analysis, funding, product design and processing efficiencies;
- reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream through outreach and education to the public on the value of proper recycling;
- enhance policies and programs to support recyclability and recycling through strengthened federal and international coordination, analysis, research on product pricing and sharing of best practices; and
- standardize measurement and increase data collection through coordinated recycling definitions, measures, targets and performance indicators.
The strategy also focuses on how the EPA will address environmental justice, climate change and the circular economy:
EPA says it recognizes the burden that living near waste and waste-related facilities can have on communities when waste is not properly managed, potentially leading to higher levels of chronic health issues. The strategy is designed to increase equitable access to recycling services, reduce environmental impacts in communities, stimulate economic development and ensure overburdened communities meaningfully participate during the strategy’s implementation.
The strategy includes a commitment from the EPA to create a new national goal to reduce the climate impacts from the production, consumption, use and disposal of materials, which make up approximately 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s International Resource Panel. This new climate goal will help achieve President Biden’s commitment to achieve a 50 to 52 percent reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, according to the EPA.
While this initial strategy focuses on the recycling of municipal solid waste, additional work is necessary to create a circular economy where materials (e.g., plastics, food waste, electronics and industrial materials) are managed sustainably throughout their life cycle. EPA, in coordination with other federal agencies and interested stakeholders, intends to release subsequent strategies that will encompass other activities beyond the recycling of MSW, reflecting the need for sustainable product design, reducing waste generation and materials reuse activities critical to realizing circularity. Subsequent strategies will address other key materials, such as plastics, food, cement and concrete, as well as electronics.
The EPA says it will work with stakeholders to develop a plan to implement the strategy.
The circular economy approach to materials management represents a change in how the nation currently mines resources, makes them into products and then disposes of those products. This approach would reduce material use, redesign materials and products to be less resource-intensive and recapture “waste” to use in manufacturing new materials and products, according to the EPA.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan says, “Our nation’s recycling system is in need of critical improvements to better serve the American people. EPA’s National Recycling Strategy provides a road map to address system challenges and pave the way for the future of recycling. As we move forward with this strategy, EPA is committed to ensuring that historically underserved and overburdened communities share in the benefits that our work will deliver. Together with the historic investments in recycling from the bipartisan infrastructure deal, the strategy will help transform recycling and solid waste management across the country while creating jobs and strengthening our economy.”
“The full impact of waste materials is connected to a broad range of issues, and having a strategy that promotes better materials management can help lead us to solutions for these larger issues,” says Sacoby Wilson, EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council member and University of Maryland Associate Professor/Director, Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health Initiative, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “We have to work with industries that are significant sources of single-use products. And, when we address recycling, we must address where these waste products come from, where they go and how they’re impacting the health, sustainability and quality of life in communities of color.”
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, took part in an advanced briefing by Carlton Waterhouse from the EPA Nov. 12. ISRI’s Director of Advocacy Adina Renee Adler says that by taking climate change and environmental justice into consideration, the strategy is more expansive than the original draft, which was released in October and focused on contamination, collection and markets.
She says the EPA offered some thinking on how to achieve each of the objectives outlined in the strategy in the briefing, such as extended producer responsibility (EPR) and recycled-content mandates to enhance circularity and address the challenges associated with recycling. The strategy calls for conducting an analysis of different policies such as these that could address recycling challenges.
Adler adds that ISRI does not support recycled-content mandates. Instead, the association says it supports legislation that expands the use of recycled plastic in applications that are appropriate, noting that these levels vary by application and type of plastic. ISRI says it supports manufacturers incorporating the principles of Design for Recycling (DfR) to ensure their products are more easily recycled, which Adler says is one of the EPA’s possible suggestions for improving collection and materials management infrastructure, though the agency refers to it as “design for environment.”
“That was music to our ears,” she says. “It was good to see that captured in the strategy.”
The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Maryland, which also took part in the EPA briefing last Friday, has voiced its support of the strategy. SWANA says it has engaged with EPA throughout the past four years, helping the agency respond to China’s National Sword program, including participating actively on several recycling workgroups and advocating for EPA’s 50 percent waste diversion goal by 2030.
“SWANA is very pleased that EPA has broadened the draft National Recycling Strategy to encompass climate change, environmental justice and other topics,” says David Biderman, SWANA executive director and CEO. “We look forward to working closely with EPA and other stakeholders to educate Americans about the strategy and helping to implement it.”
The strategy notes that stakeholders submitted comments on whether to include chemical recycling in the scope of the National Recycling Strategy, adding, “All options, including chemical recycling, should be discussed when considering methods for sustainably managing materials. Therefore, chemical recycling is part of the scope of this strategy and further discussion is welcome.”
Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington, issued a statement on the strategy that reads in part, “Advanced (or chemical) recycling is critical for achieving a more circular economy for plastics. Since 2017, 65 advanced recycling projects have been announced that have the potential to divert more than 5 million metric tons of waste annually from landfills.
“There is significant alignment in what America’s plastic makers are calling for in our '5 Actions for Sustainable Change' and what EPA has laid out in its National Recycling Strategy. This is particularly evident in the strategy’s support of increasing domestic markets for recycled material, creating national recycling standards to reduce contamination and measure results more effectively and enhancing recycling infrastructure.