Almost 5 pounds of waste is generated by one person every day in the U.S. That’s more than 292 million tons per year. Of that waste, about 69 million tons were recycled correctly, and about 25 million tons of food waste was composted. That still left around 198 million tons going to landfills.
In the 2006 movie Idiocracy, Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) volunteers for a hibernation program, but he ends up forgotten and awakens 500 years in the future where people have become, well, idiotic. Joe is the only intelligent person left, and he’s in a country where trash piles form mountains and have taken over cities.
There’s more to the film than that, but the image of mountains upon mountains of trash isn’t too far from becoming a reality if more isn’t recycled. That’s why many states have enacted legislation to help reduce the waste going to landfills. Here are some of the bills that have either passed or are in the works.
H.R. 2159: RECYCLE Act
Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips introduced the RECYCLE Act on March 23, 2021. Many people, cities, and towns struggle with recycling. It may be due to confusion surrounding different districts’ recycling rules. The cost of recycling is also a problem. If the RECYCLE Act passes, the EPA will have to establish consumer recycle education and outreach grants for communities to access recycling programs.
The other part of the RECYCLE Act is to have the EPA create a recycling toolkit for all states and Native American tribes to use. This will develop guidelines on procuring recycled materials to ensure there are nationwide rules in place. Every five years, the EPA will have to go over the policies and decide if changes need to be made.
H.R. 2238: Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021
California Representative Alan Lowenthal introduced H.R. 2238 on March 26, 2021. This act aims to amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act and push manufacturers into reusing all plastic products and packaging. By taking a closer look at all design stages to consider reuse, the goal is to reduce the production of single-use plastic using items that have already been produced.
Some manufacturing companies are always doing this. Coca-Cola is coming out with new beverage bottles containing 100% recycled materials this year. The 13.2-ounce r-PET bottles are being shipped to California, Florida, and some of the northeastern states for the Coca-Cola Flavors, Coke, Coke Zero Sugar, and Diet Coke lines. There are also 20-ounce r-PET bottles going to California, New York, and Texas for Coca-Cola and Dasani brands.
California was the first state to enact a similar law. In September 2020, Governor Newsom signed AB 793, which requires beverage companies to use 15% recycled plastic in their bottles by 2022. This amount increases to 25% in 2025 and 50% by 2030.
Maine has advanced LD 1541 in hopes the House and Senate will vote on it soon. LD 1541 requires manufacturers to help pay for the recycling of their products. For example, if a company sells paint in plastic paint containers, that company would have to pay into a fund that improves the recycling system in Maine’s cities and towns to ensure that the unused paint and containers are appropriately recycled. This helps keep the cost of recycling from reaching the taxpayers.
Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut signed SB 1037 in June 2021. This bill doubles the refundable deposit on cans and bottles to 10 cents. Stores must install vending machines for consumers to use when redeeming their beverage containers for the deposits. It also ends any exemptions on certain types of plastics from being excluded when it comes to being part of the refundable deposit program.
Food Waste Recycling Programs
In 2020, Vermont became the first state to require statewide food recycling. The pandemic caused the state to avoid fining people who didn’t compost their food waste either in their backyards or arrange pick-up services. Many food scrap hauling companies started up, making it easier to recycle food waste via curbside programs.
California also passed a food recycling law in SB 1383. Businesses and homeowners must start recycling food waste and paper products that are soiled by foods. By 2025, the hope is that 20% of the edible food that’s tossed away will be recovered. And, it hopes to reduce the amount of organic waste that’s thrown out by 75%. These regulations take effect on January 1, 2022. Curbside compost collection services are currently being created throughout the state.
The House Education Committee approved Rhode Island’s H528 in May. This bill requires schools that produce 30 tons or more of yearly organic waste to recycle all food and paper waste. Foodservice companies that provide meals at schools must meet the new composting and recycling laws.
Plastic Bag Bans
Several states have enacted plastic bag bans already. In states like California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, and Vermont, stores no longer provide plastic shopping bags. Maine is joining that list in 2021. Starting July 1, 2021, shoppers will no longer be offered free plastic grocery bags. Instead, they will need to bring their own reusable shopping bags or purchase a paper bag from the store.
Maine is also making plastic bag recycling bins mandatory in stores that provide single-use plastic bags for vegetables or bread. If you’re shopping and have plastic bags or film your bread, vegetables, or other goods come in, you’ll be able to drop them off in these bins. These plastics and film recycling stations also accept air pillows, bubble wrap, dry cleaning bags, wood pellet bags, etc.
Colorado has a similar bill in place. Plastic bags would be banned by 2024. A 10-cent bag fee is in effect starting in 2023. However, Colorado also includes foam containers in its bill, and it’s allowing municipalities to decide if they want to establish even stricter policies. Because of this permission for cities to make their own decisions, Denver’s 10-cent bag fee starts on July 1st.
Foam Container Bans
Styrofoam food containers and beverage cups are bad news as they cannot be recycled. Some companies have found success turning styrofoam into insulation, but food-stained containers aren’t always suitable for that purpose. They end up in landfills where it takes hundreds of years for them to decompose. Colorado included foam containers in its plastic bags ban. Several other states are working on foam container bans.
Connecticut passed HB 6502 and requires schools and other venues for higher education to stop using foam trays by July 1, 2023. Pennsylvania introduced HB 783 in March. If this bill passes, all styrofoam food containers and cups would be banned if they were not for meat, eggs, or packaging materials. Companies that ignore the law would be fined $500 the first time, $1,000 the second, and $2,000 per violation after that.
Virginia’s HB 1902 passed in 2021. Starting on July 1, 2023, restaurants and other food retail businesses with 20 or more locations will no longer be allowed to use styrofoam containers. All other food-related companies will have to stop using styrofoam on July 1, 2025, unless that business can prove it’s a hardship to switch to different containers.
Laws change regularly. Sometimes bills never end up reaching state governors’ desks for a signature. Others pass quickly and become laws before you know it. Keep updated on where federal bills stand by reading the U.S. Congress’s GovTrack solid waste and recycling bills resource. Recycle Nation is another excellent resource for learning more about current recycling laws.