Highlights From the EPA America Recycles Summit and Innovation Fair 2019

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held its second annual America Recycles Summit and inaugural Innovation Fair to highlight national efforts being taken to address major challenges facing the U.S. recycling system. The two-day event brought together industry heads, nonprofit organizations, local and regional leadership, and the federal government to network; show off their latest recycling projects, programs, and technology; and collectively commit to work towards the implementation of the EPA’s 2019 National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System.

This framework, officially released on America Recycles Day (November 15), details the work of four working groups created to address critical areas for action: promoting education and outreach, enhancing materials management infrastructure, strengthening secondary materials markets, and enhancing measurement. The framework document summarizes the activities and accomplishments of the workgroups in 2019 and lays out a path forward for the new year. Recommended 2020 workgroup actions under consideration include:

  • Develop and make available a set of common recycling messages and national public relations campaign to lay the foundation for this common messaging.
  • Conduct and compile research on successful infrastructure investments and continue to support programs like the “Materials Recovery for the Future” pilot project.
  • Explore economic models to create robust and sustainable domestic secondary markets and articulate a better business case for using recycled materials.
  • Develop a central compilation of data and metrics used to measure recycling or components of the recycling system.

These critical considerations were echoed in the America Recycles Summit, where speakers discussed how we can chart a path forwards towards a more resilient U.S. recycling system. Below are themes and takeaways from the event:

Education: A large portion of the event was devoted to the importance of using education as a strategy to address the nation’s recycling challenges. Helen Lowman, CEO and President of Keep America Beautiful, stressed the importance that consistent, ongoing messaging has on the public. Recycling dialogue needs to provide a positive image about the current state of recycling and explain why it is important to continue recycling.

Partnerships: The broad range of participants in the room demonstrated that no one entity is to blame for U.S. recycling shortfalls, nor can anyone solve this problem alone. No one solution exists to fix the American recycling system. It will require a collaborative effort, relying on partnerships built between the private sector, non-profit organizations, governing bodies at all levels, and the general public to carry the momentum forward.

Innovation: There was a general consensus that Americans want to recycle, yet so many communities do not have access to recycling centers or have systems in place to handle the management of recycled materials. This is especially the case for rural, remote, and hard-to-reach communities. Innovation needs to happen to improve the recycling infrastructure in all communities, whether that community is a coastal city or a rural, heartland town.

How can your organization can get involved with EPA’s recycling efforts? An action you can take today is to sign the America Recycles Pledge, an initiative resulting from the EPA’s first recycling summit. All U.S. based organizations can join NARC in signing the pledge, signifying that you are willing to commit to work towards a more resilient materials economy and build on existing efforts addressing the challenges facing the nation’s current recycling system.

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