EPA Releases National Recycling Strategy Focused on Climate Change & Environmental Justice


The following is from the U.S. EPA, in full transparency. It is published as a community service to readers.


WASHINGTON DC – Today, November 15, is National Recycling Day.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Association (EPA) released its National Recycling Strategy today.

The Strategy is focused on enhancing and advancing the national municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling system and identifies strategic objectives and stakeholder-led actions to create a stronger, more resilient and cost-effective U.S. municipal solid waste recycling system. It is part one of a series dedicated to building a circular economy for all.

This substantially revised version of the National Recycling Strategy focuses on improving the nation’s municipal solid waste recycling system and broadens the vision to include the full impact of materials while also recognizing the need to achieve environmental justice priorities.

The National Recycling Strategy reflects the work of many stakeholders – including the public, companies, and non-governmental and community-based organizations – and input from other federal agencies, states, tribes and local governments.

The U.S. municipal solid waste recycling system currently faces a number of challenges, including confusion about what materials can be recycled, recycling infrastructure that has
not kept pace with today’s diverse and changing waste stream, reduced markets for recycled materials, and varying methodologies to measure recycling system performance.

The National Recycling Strategy identifies actions to address these challenges and builds on the collaborative efforts by stakeholders from across the recycling system that began under the 2019 National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System.

Advancing municipal solid waste recycling alone will not achieve a circular economy for the United States; recycling is only one action in the toolkit. Work is necessary to broadly encompass areas not addressed here, including product redesign, source reduction and reuse. Recycling efforts in the United States comprise more than just the processing of municipal solid waste at materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and include many other materials, such as electronics, textiles and food waste. Future strategies will address these and other aspects of a circular economy for all.

A circular economy, as defined in the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, means an economy that uses a systems-focused approach and involves industrial processes and economic activities that are restorative or regenerative by design, enable resources used in such processes and activities to maintain their highest value for as long as possible, and aim for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, and systems (including business models). It is a change to the model in which resources are mined, are made into products, and then become waste.

A circular economy reduces materials use, redesigns materials and products to be less resource-intensive, and recaptures “waste” as a resource to manufacture new materials and products. Circularity is embraced within the sustainable materials management (SMM) approach that EPA and other federal agencies have pursued since 2009. A circular economy
approach under the SMM umbrella demonstrates continuity in our emphasis on
reducing life-cycle impacts of materials, including climate impacts; reducing the use
of harmful materials; and decoupling materials use from economic growth.

The 2021 Strategy recognizes the need to implement a circular economy approach for all –
reducing the creation of waste with local communities in mind and implementing materials management strategies that are inclusive of communities with environmental justice concerns.

The National Recycling Strategy is aligned with and supports implementation of the National Recycling Goal to increase the recycling rate to 50 percent by 2030.

The 2021 Strategy includes five strategic objectives to create a more resilient and cost-effective
national recycling system:

A. Improve Markets for Recycling Commodities.

B. Increase Collection and Improve Materials Management Infrastructure.

C. Reduce Contamination in the Recycled Materials Stream.

D. Enhance Policies to Support Circularity.

E. Standardize Measurement and Increase Data Collection.

Objective A: Improve Markets for Recycling Commodities
We need to improve markets for recyclable materials and recyclable products and better integrate recycled materials into product and packaging designs.
A1. Promote market development.
A2. Produce an analysis of different types of end markets that considers resilience,
environmental benefits and other relevant factors for decision makers.
A3. Increase manufacturing use of recycled material feedstocks in domestic
A4. Increase demand for recycled materials through policies, programs, initiatives
and incentives.
A5. Continue to support research and development of technologies and products
that will expand market opportunities.
A6. Explore possible ratification of the Basel Convention and encourage
environmentally sound management of scrap and recyclables traded with other

Objective B: Increase Collection and Improve Materials Management Infrastructure
Investment and innovation are necessary to improve the efficiency of materials
processing infrastructure, increase collection of materials and create a more resilient
recycling system.
B1. Improve understanding of available recycling infrastructure and needs.
B2. Increase awareness and availability of public and private funding and incentives
and effective strategies to access the funding.
B3. Continue to fund research, development, demonstration and deployment of new
technologies and processes for recycling.
B4. Increase consideration of recoverability and sustainability in the design of
B5. Optimize processing efficiencies at materials recovery facilities.
B6. Increase collection of recyclable materials.

Objective C: Reduce Contamination in the Recycled Materials Stream
Reducing contamination in the recycled materials stream will improve the quality of
the recycled material, enabling more material to be recycled and reducing discarded
C1. Enhance education and outreach to the public on the value of recycling and how
to recycle properly.
C2. Ensure resources are available for education and outreach initiatives.

Objective D: Enhance Policies and Programs to Support Circularity
Different policies and programs can be effective in increasing circularity. Efforts under
this area aim to increase coordination, availability and accessibility of information on
recycling programs and policies at the federal, state, tribal and local levels.
D1. Strengthen federal coordination to support and encourage actions to improve
the U.S. recycling system.
D2. Conduct an analysis of different policies that could address recycling challenges.
D3. Conduct a study on reflecting environmental and social costs in product pricing.
D4. Increase awareness of and continue voluntary public-private partnerships.
D4. Share best practices on policies, programs, funding opportunities and outreach
through a free, publicly accessible online clearinghouse.
D6. Coordinate domestic and international interests.

Objective E: Standardize Measurement and Increase Data Collection
Different definitions and measurement practices create challenges in setting goals
and tracking progress. We need more consistent methodologies to measure recycling
system performance.
E1. Develop and implement national recycling system definitions, measures, targets
and performance indicators.
E2. Create a tracking and reporting plan.
E3. Create recycled content measures.
E4. Coordinate domestic and international measurement efforts.
E5. Increase data availability and transparency about recyclable materials generated
and the materials manufacturers need.

Over the coming few months, EPA will work collaboratively with stakeholders to develop a plan for implementing the 2021 Strategy. EPA will ensure communities have a seat at the table and are involved in both developing the implementation plan and executing the actions in this strategy. EPA is also committing to develop a new goal to reduce the climate impacts from materials use and consumption, which will complement existing national goals on recycling and the reduction of food loss and waste. EPA plans to collaborate across all levels of government, including tribal nations, and with public and private stakeholders to achieve these ambitious goals.


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