Registration open for International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW) events

ICAW 2023 graphic

The Illinois Food Scrap & Composting Coalition (IFSCC), a non-profit organization that advances the diversion and composting of all organics in the state, has announced its International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW) 2023 programming. ISTC is an organizational member of IFSCC and the Technical Assistance Program’s zero waste team is actively involved in IFSCC and its committees.

ICAW is the largest and most comprehensive education initiative of the global compost community. The 2023 ICAW theme is “For Healthier Soil … Healthier Food, Compost!” and the 2023 dates are Sunday, May 7 – Saturday, May 13. Learn more about ICAW on the Compost Research and Education Foundation website.

Since 2021, the IFSCC has planned robust ICAW programming that combines in-person and hands-on experiences with virtual discussions and presentations to reach diverse and widespread audiences at all stages of life and composting experience. The 2023 line-up includes a day of “Adventures in Composting” with farmers, gardeners, and backyard composters around the state; a virtual International Cafe at which composting stories from around the world will be shared; a virtual Legislative Lunch & Learn; and multiple opportunities throughout the week to attend library programs and obtain finished compost.

Visit https://illinoiscomposts.org/icaw-2023/ to learn more. This page on the IFSCC website includes:

  • An expandable schedule of events, event map, and registration links for virtual events;
  • A toolkit for libraries throughout IL to use for relevant programming during ICAW;
  • Links to further information on international ICAW activities;
  • Links to connect with ICAW on social media;
  • Highlights from last year’s programming, including recordings of virtual events; and
  • Bios for the co-chairs of the IFSCC ICAW planning committee, Kate Caldwell and Merleanne Rampale.

Finally, if you’re new to composting, check out this recent blog post from TAP, which includes resources for a variety of home composting methods: https://green-lunchroom.istc.illinois.edu/2023/04/05/composting-at-home-videos-upcoming-webinars-other-resources-for-beginners/.

ICAW info poster from IFSCC

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding now available to support recycling and composting

Three colorful bins, labelled "Compost," "Waste," and "Recycle" sit side by side. Each bin's label shows photos of materials that should be placed inside.
Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

On November 17, 2022 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of $100 million in grants for recycling infrastructure and recycling education and outreach projects throughout the country.

The Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) Grant Program is divided into several funding opportunities. Information on the State and Territory Grant Program and the Political Subdivisions Grant Program is currently available on the U. S. EPA website, with information on the Tribal Grant Program coming soon.

SWIFR Political Subdivisions Grant Program

Entities eligible to apply for funding through the SWIFR Political Subdivisions Grant Program include “Political subdivisions” of states and territories, such as counties, cities, towns, parishes, and similar units of governments that have executive and legislative functions to be political subdivisions of states and territories.

Applications Due: January 16, 2023
Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022
Funding Available: The minimum individual award amount is $500,000 and the maximum individual award is $4,000,000 for the grant period.
Grant Period: Up to 3 years

Materials and waste streams considered under this announcement include:

  • Municipal solid waste (MSW), including plastics, organics, paper, metal, glass, etc. and construction and demolition (C&D) debris.
  • In addition, materials and waste streams considered include the management pathways of source reduction, reuse, sending materials to material recovery facilities, composting, industrial uses (e.g., rendering, anaerobic digestion (AD)), and feeding animals.

All applications must achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  • Establish, increase, expand, or optimize collection and improve materials management infrastructure.
  • Fund the creation and construction of tangible infrastructure, technology, or other improvements to reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream.
  • Establish, increase, expand, or optimize capacity for materials management.
  • Establish, improve, expand, or optimize end-markets for the use of recycled commodities.
  • Demonstrate a significant and measurable increase in the diversion, recycling rate, and quality of materials collected for municipal solid waste.

Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Innovative solutions and/or programs that provide or increase access to prevention, reuse, and recycling in areas that currently do not have access; including development of and/or upgrades to drop-off and transfer stations (including but not limited to a hub-and-spoke model in rural communities), etc.
  • The purchase of recycling equipment, including but not limited to sorting equipment, waste metering, trucks, processing facilities, etc.
  • Upgrades to material recovery facilities (MRFs) such as optical sorters, artificial intelligence, etc.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to composting facilities or anaerobic digesters to increase capacity for organics recycling.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to curbside collection programs or drop-off stations for organics.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to reuse infrastructure such as online reuse platforms, community repair spaces, technology and equipment to improve materials management reuse options, food donation, and upcycling, staging areas for material reuse/donation, reuse warehouses, and reuse centers, and electronic waste and computer recycling and refurbishing.

Recycling Education and Outreach (REO) Grant Program

The REO Grant Program includes $30 million in funding for projects to improve consumer education and outreach on waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting. The grants aim to reduce waste generation, decrease contamination in the recycling stream, and increase recycling rates across the country in a manner that is equitable for all.

Eligible applicants include:

  • U.S. States, including Washington, D.C.
  • Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Local governments.
  • Federally recognized tribal governments.
  • Native Hawaiian organizations, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
  • Nonprofit organizations.
  • Public-private partnerships.

Applications Due: January 16, 2023
Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022
Funding Available: The minimum individual award floor is $250,000, and the maximum individual award ceiling is $2,000,000 for the grant period.
Grant Period: Up to 3 years

Materials within the scope of this grant program include commonly recycled materials, such as aluminum and steel containers, glass, cardboard paper, and plastics, as well as food, organics (yard and tree trimmings, wood, etc.), textiles, batteries, and electronics. Also within the scope of this grant program are education and outreach activities that prevent or reduce waste by reducing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, recycling, composting, or using anaerobic digestor systems to treat these types of materials or to reduce related contamination.

All projects must encourage the collection of recyclable materials and must achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  • Inform the public about residential or community recycling programs.
  • Provide information about the recycled materials that are accepted as part of a residential or community recycling program that provides for the separate collection of residential solid waste from recycled material.
  • Increase collection rates and decrease contamination in residential and community recycling programs.

Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Public service announcements.
  • Door-to-door education and outreach campaigns.
  • Social media and digital outreach.
  • An advertising campaign on recycling awareness.
  • The development and dissemination of:
    • a toolkit for a municipal and commercial recycling program.
    • information on the importance of quality in the recycling stream.
    • information on the benefits of recycling.
    • information on what happens to materials after the materials are placed in the bin.
  • Businesses recycling outreach.
  • Bin, cart, and other receptacle labeling and signs.
  • Community ambassador education programs or training the trainer programs.
  • Other education and outreach activities to improve waste prevention, reuse, and recycling, and reduce contamination, such as evaluations and evidence-based messaging and strategies associated with preventing or reducing waste and improving reuse, repair, refurbish, and remanufacture of materials.

Learn more

“Green” your Halloween with these seasonal waste diversion programs

What do the members of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program’s zero waste team fear the most? Unnecessary waste! Think about all the products and packaging sent off to be prematurely buried in landfills before their useful “lives” are truly over–it makes our blood run cold. To avoid being haunted by the ghosts of poorly managed materials, check out the following Halloween waste diversion programs to keep waste out of landfills.

Please note that links and/or mentions of organizations or businesses are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by the Technical Assistance Program, ISTC, the Prairie Research Institute, or the University of Illinois.

Pumpkin Smash Events

Did you know that IL leads the nation in production of pumpkins? Did you further know that pumpkins are mostly water? A great deal of labor, land, water, and other resources are invested in growing, harvesting, and distributing pumpkins in our state, and many of them end up being used for brief decorations that may wind up in landfills after Halloween has passed.

Pumpkin “Smash” events are events to collect jack-o-lanterns and other pumpkins for composting. They’re held on the Saturday after Halloween (November 5th this year), and may involve fun activities in which people can “smash” their pumpkins by throwing them into a designated dumpster or compost heap. Some events even involve pumpkin “chucking” with catapults! SCARCE has helped Pumpkin Smashes grow to over 59 sites across IL since 2014, and their efforts have even inspired communities outside of IL to host their own pumpkin collections. According to the SCARCE website, the 2021 Pumpkin Smash events collectively composted over 242 tons of pumpkins! See https://www.scarce.org/pumpkins/ for more information, including a map of registered events in the state, a guide for hosting a Pumpkin Smash to help with planning for next year, a form to register your local event so it will be included on the aforementioned map, and example flyers and other resources to help spread the word. See this recent Illinois Food Scrap Coalition blog post and flyer developed by Go Green Winnetka for further information.

Flyer for Pumpkin Smash Event at the Landscape Recycling Center in Urbana, IL.

Candy Wrapper Recycling Programs

When you’re hosting a Halloween party or having kids trick-or-treat at the homes of people you know and trust, there are opportunities to pass out/receive homemade or minimally-packaged bulk treats and reduce the amount of plastic packaging associated with Halloween festivities. However, the reality is that many people pass out candy to or collect candy from strangers; plus, many of us like to purchase Halloween candy to share with coworkers or our family during the month of October as part of celebrating. The result is lots of plastic packaging ending up in landfills because such material is not collected in typical recycling programs because the form or components of the packaging make them difficult to recycle. There are however, a couple of options that can help divert the seasonal increase in candy wrappers from the landfill.

Trick or trash box
Trick or Trash collection box available from Rubicon.

Rubicon, in collaboration with the National Wildlife Foundation, annually offers a Trick or Trash program, in which schools, independent small businesses, and community organizations can order FREE candy wrapper collection boxes. Organizations receive their collection boxes through the UPS Carbon Neutral Shipment program, set them up and collect wrappers until their box is full. Then, boxes are sealed and mailed back using a pre-affixed label. Each participating organization gets a certificate of recycling confirming how many wrappers they diverted from landfill. The recycled plastic can be used to make “doggie bags” used at animal shelters for animal waste collection. See https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/how-it-works/ for more information, and https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/#block_5aee8cc625f6cfa2532fd2b387a4e675 to order a free box. Educational materials, including lesson plans, are available at https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/education/. Note that teachers and organizations are limited to one free box to ensure that more people across the country can participate, and you should allow at least a week for shipping. So if you order a free box now, you might plan to collect wrappers right after Halloween, rather than at Halloween events. Individuals or larger business might choose to purchase a box for participation.

TerraCycle also sells “zero waste boxes” for various hard-to-recycle waste streams, including candy and snack wrapper zero waste boxes. That company also collaborates with various Subaru locations nationwide that host collection boxes for items including disposable cups, lids, straws, candy and snack wrappers, and coffee and creamer capsules. Learn more on the TerraCycle Subaru Loves the Earth web page and search for a participating location near you.

Learn more about reducing and reusing on Halloween

Celebrate Pollution Prevention Week, Sept. 19-25, 2022

The 2022 P2 Week Poster, designed by Rowan Lambert, a senior mural artist at the University of New Orleans.

The third week of September every year is celebrated as Pollution Prevention (P2) Week in the U.S. Thus in 2022, we focus particularly on pollution prevention from September 19th to the 25th, although P2 can and should be a priority year-round.

As defined by the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR, emphasis added), “Pollution is the contamination of air, soil, or water by the discharge of harmful substances. Pollution prevention is the reduction or elimination of pollution at the source (source reduction) instead of at the end-of-the-pipe or stack. Pollution prevention occurs when raw materials, water, energy and other resources are utilized more efficiently, when less harmful substances are substituted for hazardous ones, and when toxic substances are eliminated from the production process. By reducing the use and production of hazardous substances, and by operating more efficiently we protect human health, strengthen our economic well-being, and preserve the environment.”

Rather than being a burden on industry, NPPR points out that “Adopting pollution prevention practices and techniques often benefits industry by lowering a company’s operational and environmental compliance costs. By preventing the generation of waste, P2 can also reduce or eliminate long-term liabilities and clean-up costs. Furthermore, disposal costs are reduced when the volume of waste is decreased. This can also lead to a reduction in workplace exposures to hazardous materials which can affect workers’ health and hence, their productivity. If less waste is produced, there will also be a diminished need for on-site storage space. Furthermore, by preventing pollution there will be a greater likelihood that a company will be in compliance with local, state, and federal compliance statutes. Finally, as community pillars, businesses shoulder an important responsibility for protecting the environment and natural resources for their own good as well as that of society.”

And did you know that in 1990, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act (P2Act), which states “The Environmental Protection Agency must establish a source reduction program which collects and disseminates information, provides financial assistance to States, and implements the other activities….”

Helping businesses, organizations, institutions, and government agencies throughout Illinois and beyond to prevent pollution and use resources more efficiently to benefit our shared environment while also ensuring that companies and communities are more competitive and resilient is essentially the mission of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP). Our team is here to help your organization identify and implement ways to make your operations more sustainable and to prevent pollution. TAP is funded not only by the State of Illinois but also a variety of grants and fee-for-service projects for a variety of clients.

Currently, TAP has funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide free sustainability assessments to Illinois manufacturers in the following sectors:

These assessments can help facilities reduce business costs, energy and water consumption, wastewater generation, emissions, and hazardous material usage, which can result in increased profitability, productivity, and competitiveness as well as recycling or diversion of by-products.

So if you are an Illinois manufacturer with facilities or supporting industries in those sectors, click on the link associated with your sector above to learn more about the assessment opportunity, and how TAP can help you identify P2 opportunities today. You can also access an overview flyer at https://uofi.box.com/s/fu0hsmj6skm52vl290nu7kiuohp758xa or contact Irene Zlevor via email or by phone at 217-300-8617. Additionally, a recorded webinar, presented to Sustain Rockford, describes the assessment process in detail.

There are opportunities for everyone to learn more about and practice P2–not just manufacturers. To learn more, explore the links below.

US EPA releases report on environmental impacts of US food waste

EPA infographic on environmental impacts of US food waste
Image from US EPA Office of Research and Development.

On November 30, 2021, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new report entitled “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste (Part 1).”

This report reveals the climate and environmental impacts of producing, processing, distributing, and retailing food that is ultimately wasted and projects the environmental benefits of meeting the US goal to prevent 50 percent of food waste by 2030. The report was prepared to inform domestic policymakers, researchers, and the public, and focuses primarily on five inputs to the US cradle-to-consumer food supply chain — agricultural land use, water use, application of pesticides and fertilizers, and energy use — plus one environmental impact — greenhouse gas emissions.

This report provides estimates of the environmental footprint of current levels of food loss and waste to assist stakeholders in clearly communicating the significance; decision-making among competing environmental priorities; and designing tailored reduction strategies that maximize environmental benefits. The report also identifies key knowledge gaps where new research could improve our understanding of US food loss and waste and help shape successful strategies to reduce its environmental impact.

The new report reveals that each year, the resources attributed to US food loss and waste are equivalent to:

  • 140 million acres agricultural land – an area the size of California and New York combined;
  • 5.9 trillion gallons blue water – equal to the annual water use of 50 million American homes;
  • 778 million pounds pesticides;
  • 14 billion pounds fertilizer – enough to grow all the plant-based foods produced each year in the United States for domestic consumption;
  • 664 billion kWh energy – enough to power more than 50 million US homes for a year; and
  • 170 million MTCO2e greenhouse gas emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants

In short, significant resources go into growing, processing, packaging, storing, and distributing food. Thus, the most important action we can take to reduce the environmental impacts of uneaten food is to prevent that food from becoming waste in the first place.

A companion report, “The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste: Part 2,” will examine and compare the environmental impacts of a range of management pathways for food waste, such as landfilling, composting, and anaerobic digestion. EPA plans to complete and release this second report in Spring 2022. Together, these two reports will encompass the net environmental footprint of US food loss and waste.

Read the full report at https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2021-11/from-farm-to-kitchen-the-environmental-impacts-of-u.s.-food-waste_508-tagged.pdf.  (PDF document, 113 pages)

For questions, contact Shannon Kenny, Senior Advisor, Food Loss and Food Waste, US EPA Office of Research and Development.

Glass Recycling Foundation partners with Corona on glass recycling pilot project

Corona Protect Our Beaches and Glass Recycling Foundation logo

In a recent webinar hosted by the Illinois Recycling Association/Illinois Recycling Foundation (IRA/IRF), Scott Defife, President, Glass Packaging Institute and Glass Recycling Foundation (GRF), and Jeff Lang of Legacy Marketing described the Corona Protect Our Beaches program currently being deployed throughout Chicagoland.

According to GRF, more than 28 million glass bottles and jars end up in landfills each year, despite the fact that glass is endlessly recyclable. Recycling glass can protect the environment, economy, and sustainable manufacturing by capturing materials for reuse and keeping them out of landfills, as well as preventing litter from polluting the ocean and beaches.

To improve glass diversion from landfills and educate the public about the importance of glass recycling, Constellation Brands and its popular beer brand, Corona, have teamed up with GRF for a glass recycling initiative as part of the Corona Protect Our Beaches campaign.

This pilot program involves glass bottle recycling at Chicago-based bars and restaurants. Participating locations will separate their glass bottles into a separate bulk bin for pick up, starting in late June 2021. The GRF pays a hauler for the pick-ups; there is no cost to the participating locations. Any glass bottle, not just Corona-branded bottles, can be recycled, and no color sorting of bottles is required (as noted during the webinar Q&A).  Additionally, a small amount of incidental contamination (e.g. napkins or straws) is acceptable. This creates a simple system for the participating pilot locations.

The glass recycling pilot will be paired with special events including an interactive experience that sheds light on the need for glass recycling and helps “crush the problem.” At these events, empty bottles will be turned into a sand-like powder using a grinding machine that allows members of the public to watch the process, thus capturing their attention and imagination. Event attendees learn about the program and the call to action, “#DontTrashGlass.” Select consumers will be able to feed empty bottles into the grinding machine. Events will also feature a sand art station for attendees to enjoy as they learn about the benefits of recycling glass. According to Defife and Lang, the grinding machine is actually relatively quiet; the generators used to power the machine at these events is louder than the machine itself. The sand-like substance fits well with the theme of Corona’s Protect Our Beaches campaign and brand identity. GRF recognizes that there are many ways to use recycled glass and beach restoration is one of them; in addition, bottles can become new bottles, fiberglass, construction aggregate, sandblasting, and more.

Corona glass recycling event

Over the course of nine weeks this summer, the grinding machine will tour ten different wholesalers and corresponding accounts. The complete list of grinding events is available at https://protectbeaches.com/events/. Events kick off on June 25 at two locations in St. Charles, IL, and one in West Chicago.

During the webinar, it was noted that additional restaurants and bars can be added to the pilot in the Chicagoland area by contacting Defife or Lang (their email addresses are provided at the end of the webinar recording). Also, the collaborative team is trying to figure out what it would cost to continue the recycling program beyond the pilot period. A similar pilot is taking place in Phoenix, AZ, in partnership with Glass King. At the end of the pilot the total tonnage of glass recycled will be measured to illustrate diversion impacts. Participating locations will also learn valuable information about the nature of their waste streams from those measurements.

Learn More

Links, company, and brand names are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by ISTC or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Tools to increase creativity and reduce food waste

dragon fruit

Food waste in the home can often occur because of boredom or limited knowledge of how to use certain ingredients. A consumer may have leftovers in their fridge that they don’t want to waste, but can’t bear to eat one more time in the item’s current form while simultaneously not knowing how to repurpose the item for a new dish. Or perhaps they’ve acquired an edible item that’s completely new to them, so they’re not sure how to use it in the first place. This can happen when shoppers impulsively buy exotic produce or other ingredients at grocery stores without having performed research ahead of time–maybe the item just looked intriguing on the shelves, or its praises were sung by a friend or trusted podcast, prompting a desire for a new experience without adequate guidance.

This type of food waste also happens when food banks distribute fresh produce in an effort to promote healthy diets without simultaneously distributing tips on how to use the produce. Donated commodities may not always fall within the range of familiarity for a food recipient and they may find themselves having no idea what to do with the celery root or artichokes in their pre-packed food box.

Even if one is familiar with an ingredient, sometimes it loses its appeal when used in the same way time after time. Imagine a parent who frequently buys peas because their children love them. Those kids might become less receptive to the peas after having them prepared the same way at least once a week for a year. Below are several sites that provide inspiration for cooking unfamiliar foods or preparing familiar ones in new ways.

Recognizing that inspiration is as important a tool in keeping food out of landfills as compost piles and meal planning, the Love Food Hate Waste Canada website includes a section called “Get Inspired.” This section not only includes tips on how to preserve or store foods to prevent waste and meal planning, it also provides a page called “5 Ways With.” This page presents five interesting ways to use ingredients in the categories dairy, fruits & veggies, grains & bread, and meat & eggs.

5 ways with page

For example, broccoli stalks can be used in fritters or pesto or as an addition to soups, salads, or stir-fry. Links to recipes are provided when the suggestion calls for more detailed instruction.

The flagship Love Food Hate Waste website, launched by the UK organization Waste & Resources Action Programme, or WRAP, includes a “Recipes” section that allows users to search for ideas based on dietary parameters, preparation difficulty, or cooking time.

CookIt from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Save the Food website helps consumers find recipes for a wide variety of ingredients, including those that are commonly thrown out as scraps, such as overripe avocados or cheese rinds. It also provides ideas for transforming ingredients that are “past their prime” to get the most use out of available food. Some of the recipes are accompanied by videos of Chef Joel Gamoran making the recipe.

save the food.com logo

SuperCook allows users to search for recipes based on ingredients they have on hand. Similar tools include MyFridgeFood, Cookpad, Cookin’ with Google, and the Use Up Leftovers tool on the BigOven recipe database website.

The next time you’re faced with unfamiliar or uninspiring food, don’t throw it out! Get out your smartphone and consult these online tools and resources to find a way to make that edible appealing.

Note: This post was originally published on the ISTC Green Lunchroom Challenge blog, which is maintained by Technical Assistance Program staff. Check out that blog for more news, resources, and tips on preventing food waste and diverting food from landfills via rescue, repurposing, composting, and other strategies.

Redesigned Sustain Springfield Green Map Released

The Urban Action Network has partnered with Lincoln Land Community College’s GIS Program since 2017 to provide an online map of all things “green” in Springfield.  The Sustain Springfield Green Map (SSGM) is a user-friendly, GIS-based, online resource that guides residents, visitors, organizations, and businesses to sustainable or environmentally-friendly services, sites, and amenities. Map users can easily find recycling locations, community gardens, car charging stations, and much more. The SSGM has been redesigned to make searching even easier.

This completely redesigned Map streamlines category headings, tells its story better with tabs and graphics, and includes a new Special Projects section in the Gallery. The special projects mini-maps currently include Springfield’s tiny libraries and micro-pantries and the section provides an opportunity for more LLCC GIS students, the public, and special audiences to contribute to its development through emailing suggested additions. A Steering Committee (see Supporters tab in the online map) formulates new ways to expand Map content and engage the public.

The Sustain Springfield Green Map is a project of the Urban Action Network (UAct) which provides executive oversight and operational support. The original map was created as a classroom project by Jordyn Lahey, an LLCC GIS student. The SSGM is hosted by LLCC under the guidance of Geography Professor, Dean Butzow and is maintained as an in-kind service by LLCC GIS Instructor, Rey de Castro and Think GeoSpatial Educator, Jenni Dahl, who are also members of the Steering Committee.

“Springfield is remarkably green for a city of its size and we must continue to cultivate and support sustainability in Springfield.  The Sustain Springfield Green Map is a dynamic tool that showcases Springfield’s environmental services, sites, and amenities placing the information at our fingertips,” said UAct President Sheila Stocks-Smith. “Please share the Map widely with your family, friends, and social networks, and perhaps the Sustain Springfield Green Map can help inspire us all to make conscious choices and act collectively to make every day Earth Day.”

See the newly redesigned Green Map online at https://arcg.is/u14Hq.

US national recycling goal announced, comments sought on National Recycling Strategy

America Recycles Day is celebrated on November 15 annually and serves as an opportunity to raise awareness of consumption, proper materials management options, and procedures, and to encourage Americans to commit to increasing and improving their recycling actions in the coming year.  It’s also an opportunity to highlight the importance of recycling not only for environmental integrity but also for the US economy. According to the US EPA, on a national average, there are 1.17 jobs, $65,230 wages, and $9,420 tax revenues attributable, for every 1,000 (US) tons of recyclables collected and recycled.

On November 16 and 17, 2020, EPA hosted its America Recycles Innovation Fair and Summit in a virtual format. This year’s events were of particular importance due to the announcement of a national recycling goal during the Summit. The goal is to increase the national recycling rate to 50% by the year 2030, or “50 by 30,” in its abbreviated form.

US EPA 50 by 30 logo

To provide some context, EPA regularly releases updated data on the management of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), or the discarded materials generated, landfilled, or recycled from US residences. Because it takes a great deal of effort and coordination to gather and analyze all the data required for a national overview, reports typically reflect the reality of material flows from a few years prior. Last week, EPA released the 2018 Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures report. The data reveal that “the recycling rate (including composting) was 32.1 percent in 2018, down from 34.7 percent in 2015.”

Increasing the recycling rate to 50% in the US would be a significant improvement. Seeing our national recycling rate increase, instead of continuing the disappointing downward trend, would be great news for those of us who care about sustainable materials management.

US EPA infographic detailing the environmental and economic impact of recycling and composting
US EPA Infographic

The reasons behind the underwhelming US recycling rate are many and complex, and we’ll only touch on some of the factors here. As is the case with so many environmental issues, there is a patchwork of policies and laws across the different states. With no federal policy or national or global coordination among impacted industries about labeling and product design to facilitate material reclamation at the end of a product’s life, there are a number of issues. These include confusion about what can be recycled, technical issues related to differing product structure, mixed messages, and inefficient implementation of programs.

Even within states, materials accepted in recycling programs often differ widely from one municipality or county to another. That’s because even materials that are technically recyclable (able to be recycled scientifically) may not be practically recyclable in a given location, due to lack of processing infrastructure, economic factors that make collection and processing of materials infeasible (e.g. availability of end markets, the volume of a material that can be collected in a given timeframe, etc.), and lack of clear, effective information for consumers to follow.

US EPA graph showing recycling and composting rates from 1960 to 2018
US EPA graph showing recycling and composting trends over time

There are also issues of “wishcycling”–when people want to believe an item is recyclable and put it into their bins without knowing if it’s accepted in their local program. This leads to contamination of batches of genuinely recyclable materials, potentially rendering them useless, as well as posing risks for recycling facility workers.

The way materials are collected can impact contamination levels and the quality or marketability of recycled feedstocks. Single-stream collection, for example, in which all materials accepted for recycling by a program are placed in the same collection bin, leads to higher contamination.  In the case of glass, this often leads to breakage and a reduced rate of reclamation alongside increased hazards.

International policies, such as the infamous “China ban” in which China stopped accepting imports of certain materials from countries like the US, have left recyclers and program coordinators with a domestic glut of materials for which there aren’t adequate end markets. In some cases that means materials separated by consumers for recycling have been sent to landfills. In the worst cases, recycling programs have ended due to budget constraints. All of this has lead to a lack of faith in recycling programs and options among US consumers, even where programs are available.

To address these various challenges, EPA has developed a draft National Recycling Strategy that identifies objectives and actions needed to create a stronger, more resilient U.S. recycling system. The draft strategy builds on The National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System, released in November 2019. That Framework was the result of collaborative efforts by stakeholders from across the recycling system launched during the first America Recycles Day Summit in 2018.

Today, recommended actions within the draft National Recycling Strategy are organized under three strategic objectives:

  • Reduce contamination in the recycling stream
  • Increase processing efficiency
  • Improve markets

The draft National Recycling Strategy is open for public comment until December 4, 2020. To leave a comment, go to https://www.regulations.gov/ and search for the docket EPA-HQ-OLEM-2020-0462. This is your opportunity to let EPA know your concerns, perceived challenges and barriers to progress, ideas to effectively increase our national recycling rate, and any suggestions for additions or improvement to the actions already outlined.

When you enter the docket number as listed above, you’ll see a “Memo Opening Docket for Public Comment” in the search results. Open that, and if you see “Open Docket Folder,” open that as well so you can view the primary document (Memo Opening Docket for Public Comment, with a “Comment Now” button next to it) plus two supporting documents–the actual text of the draft National Recycling Strategy and an executive summary of the text. (Note, if you’re redirected to a beta version of the new regulations.gov website, the process will be slightly different and you won’t have to open the docket folder to see the three relevant documents). You will also be able to view all previously submitted comments if you choose. Comments can be made anonymously.

To simplify the submission process,  you may want to prepare your comment in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or similar program ahead of time, and copy and paste your thoughts into the online form. Note that if you want to refer to documents in your comment, you can upload supporting files via the comment form as well. For example, if your community has a particularly effective consumer education publication, you might want to provide it as an example or include a copy of a recycling policy, journal article, etc. For further guidance, consult the regulations.gov “Tips for Submitting Effective Comments” document, available in PDF format. Additional guidance on the comment submission process and contact information if you experience difficulty is available at https://www.regulations.gov/help.

Meanwhile, if you represent a US-based organization interested in working toward a more resilient materials economy, consider signing the America Recycles Pledge. This signifies your willingness to participate in ongoing dialogues and to take action with other pledge signers to improve America’s recycling system. Learn more at https://www.epa.gov/americarecycles/forms/america-recycles-pledge.

graphic version of the America Recycles Pledge

Additional Resources