On November 15, 2021, the EPA released the National Recycling Strategy. As current recycling policies and programs aren’t working as effectively as they could, the EPA decided it was time to take a closer look at creating a circular economy that works for everyone.
Why Isn’t Recycling Working?
If you move from one town to another, you’ll see that recycling practices vary. For example, a Franklin County, Vermont waste facility doesn’t accept books. Cross the border into Chittenden County, and books are recyclable. Other differences include refusing to accept mattresses, not taking certain plastics, and charging for electronic waste that’s not a rechargeable battery, computer, TV, or printer.
Rural communities may be served by three or four trash and recycling haulers, which can add to the confusion. Consumers often compare prices and take advantage of new customer deals to save money. One recycling hauler is in City A, where there’s one recycling facility. Another hauler goes to a different recycling facility in City B. Those two facilities have opposing guidelines, and consumers don’t always compare lists when switching haulers. It leads to a lot of improperly recycled materials.
This confusion isn’t uncommon. Hamilton, Indiana, reportedly received 1.65 million pounds of e-waste and hazardous materials that residents improperly recycled. When that happens, the recycling center is fined or has to put tons of materials into the landfill, costing money. Residents don’t understand what and how to recycle, and that puts a strain on recycling centers that do everything possible to catch the mistake, which drives up operating costs. Taxpayers don’t want to pay more in taxes, so some recycling centers end up shutting down due to the excessive cost of staying in business.
When you have residents in one town able to recycle all plastics and another town limiting recycling to #1 and #2, it becomes confusing. People may wish-cycle and hope they’ve made the correct assumption, while others throw it away when it could have been recycled.
It’s important to remember that not every household has access to a computer. While it’s less common, around 24% of Americans reported not having a smartphone, while 41% reported not having a computer. Years ago, it was common for a waste and recycling company to provide customers with a printout of materials they could recycle. Most now tell people to find the current list online. If you don’t have a computer or internet, a phone call is the best way to access this information. It’s not convenient, though.
The other thing keeping recycling from working happened a few years ago. China stopped buying recycling from the U.S. The country wasn’t prepared to handle all of the recyclables generated each week. The EPA is working on building the infrastructure needed to support a circular economy. It starts with H.R. 2159, The RECYCLE Act. This act aims to better educate consumers on how to recycle properly. Many states are taking additional actions. This is leading to some significant changes in recycling during 2022.
What Changes Are Being Made to Improve Recycling?
California’s Composting Law
Vermont was the first state to enact statewide food composting. Food scraps were banned from residential and business trash. The pandemic and lack of composting facilities shifted these rules, allowing Vermonters to compost vegetables and fruits but toss meat scraps and bones into their trash.
California is joining Vermont with a statewide composting law. Starting January 1, Californians must now recycle all of their food scraps through backyard composting or curbside pick-up. Not only that, but restaurants, grocery stores, and hospital kitchens must donate at least 20% of their excess edible foods to food shelves and programs that feed the hungry.
Connecticut and Washington Pass Recycled Content Laws
Connecticut and Washington now have recycled content laws on the books. Washington took steps to ban polystyrene food packaging. The state also requires beverage containers, trash bags, and cleaner bottles to contain a certain percentage of recycled plastic. By the end of 2022, manufacturers need to be ready to have 15% content in bottles and containers and 10% in trash bags by the start of 2023.
A percentage of the plastic used in bottles and containers must contain recycled content in Connecticut later this year. This change goes into effect on December 1, 2022.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Plastics and Packaging Bills
Maine and Oregon passed bills that will require manufacturers to become responsible for the packaging they use. Manufacturers have to finance programs to collect and recycle the containers and packaging they create.
Oregon also created a similar law. With Oregon’s Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act, manufacturers must pay an annual membership fee that goes towards improving recycling facilities.
New York Bans Polystyrene Foam Peanuts and Food Containers
Styrofoam peanuts are a nuisance as they’re rarely recyclable, but they don’t break down quickly in landfills. It leads to microplastic pollution. To stop this, a ban on polystyrene food packaging and foam peanuts went into effect on January 1. The law also prevents companies in the state from manufacturing or selling packaging containers or peanuts.
People Need to Ask for Single-Use Plastic Products in Restaurants
California has another change coming in 2022. Starting in June, people who live in the state or are visiting must request single-use plastic utensils or condiment packages. They will no longer be automatically handed out with a takeout, third-party food delivery, or fast food order. Also, the packaged bundles that include a napkin, plastic cutlery, salt, and pepper packages are no longer allowed as part of this rule.
Washington is another state embracing this change. Only for Washington state, the rule went into effect on January 1. If consumers want packages of ketchup, mayo, mustard, plastic straws, or single-use cutlery, they need to ask or go to a self-service area to get the items they need. If your order includes a drink, a lid will only be included if you ask for one or are at a drive-through window.
Washington DC Also Has New Recycling Laws
Effective in January, residents of Washington DC will also see some changes when it comes to recycling and recyclables. Small disposable food service items like plastic cutlery and single-serve condiment packages are no longer allowed. Customers must ask for them, or restaurants must have a self-service area where customers can take what they need.
The Zero Waste Omnibus Amendment Act of 2020 goes into effect in January. Producers of batteries and rechargeable electronics cannot dispose of any spent batteries unless it’s through a battery recycling program. This rule expands to businesses and consumers in 2023.
Polk County, Florida, Adds a Change That Won’t Please Some Residents
While many eyes are on recycling as much as possible, Polk County residents face a change that may not be as popular. Curbside recycling containers may not contain glass and some plastics anymore. This policy started five years ago, so it’s not new. What is new is that the county is warning that residents who do not follow these recycling rules may have their curbside containers taken from them.
There’s good news, however. Polk County is working with Lid Vizion on a scanner that residents can use to decide if an item goes in their bin or not. Residents will scan the QR code and learn where to place it. If the app does get approved, it will be a game-changer.
How Do You Know What You Can Recycle?
How are you supposed to keep up with the changes when the laws change frequently? Rely on Recycle Nation’s easy-to-use guide to recycling. Enter the item you want to dispose of and submit it with your ZIP Code. Our search form returns a list of recycling centers that accept that item. You’ll never struggle to know if you should trash something or set it aside for recycling. We have the recycling answers you need.