WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, May 22, 2024, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing to consider how federal programs support local waste management efforts to achieve a circular economy.

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Today, we have gathered to talk about one of my favorite subjects, and a favorite subject of many members of this committee — and that is recycling! Specifically, we are here to discuss a topic that we have explored a number of times before in this committee — the circular economy. But first, I want to welcome our witnesses to the committee today. Secretary Biser, Ms. Fife-Ferris and Mr. Marshall, thank you for joining us this morning.

“So, what exactly is the circular economy? As you’ll recall, the circular economy is a model of production and consumption in which the things we use during our daily lives are reused, repaired or recycled instead of allowing those items to end up in a landfill or to litter our communities across America.

“As a number of our colleagues know, I care deeply about limiting waste through recycling and reusing. In fact, I have recycled just about anything and everything from paint cans to electronics.

“One might ask, why is it important that we build a circular economy? Reusing and recycling products not only helps keep our communities cleaner, but it is an essential part of the solution to a series of crises facing our planet. These include escalating climate change, overflowing landfills and alarming amounts of plastic choking our oceans.

“For example, recycling can reduce energy consumption. Producing aluminum products from recycled materials uses 95 percent less energy than creating them from first-use materials. And, it’s not just aluminum. Many goods, like paper and glass, are more energy-efficient to produce from recycled materials. With more energy-efficient processes, manufacturers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

“Further, reducing waste from the products we use has significant economic benefits. For example, in 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Recycling Economic Information Report estimated that recycling and reuse activities support approximately 681,000 domestic jobs. For comparison, that’s more jobs than the entire workforce in the state of Rhode Island!

“Unfortunately, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, today, we only recycle approximately 32 percent of our waste in the United States. That presents us with both a challenge and an opportunity.

“As many of our colleagues know, I believe that in adversity lies opportunity. And I believe that we have an opportunity to clean up our communities, support jobs and economic growth, and protect our planet by actively supporting recycling and reuse as ways to reduce waste in our economy.

“Fortunately, we have taken bipartisan action in recent years to seize this opportunity. In the 116th Congress, members of this committee worked together to lead the passage of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act. That law established the Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) grant program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to support waste management programs across our country.

“And as you’ll recall, last Congress, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided funding for this grant program. Specifically, this historic law provides $275 million over five years for the SWIFR program and $75 million over five years for Recycling Education and Outreach grants.

“EPA announced awards for the SWIFR grant program in November of 2023, representing the largest federal investment in recycling in over thirty years. And every single state has been awarded funding through that program.

“SWIFR grants are flexible and can be used for many different purposes. For example, in Delaware, we will use part of our funding to conduct research on using recycled glass as a cost-effective alternative to sand for beach replenishment. The city of Baltimore, Maryland will use its SWIFR grant to build a solar-powered composting facility. And the state of Arkansas will use its funding to update its statewide waste management plan for the 21st Century.

“And today, we will hear more about how the city of Seattle, Washington is using its SWIFR grant to build a warehouse to help reuse salvaged lumber from old buildings. If more cities found ways to reuse building materials, as Seattle is doing, we could create approximately 200,000 jobs and reduce carbon emissions associated with building materials by almost 40 percent by 2050, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s estimates.

“Today, we are looking forward to learning more from our panelists about what is working in communities across our nation. As the members of this committee have often heard me say more than a few times: ‘we need to find out what works and do more of that.’

“As members of this committee will recall, in the Senate, we are continuing to advance bipartisan solutions that will support the innovative work happening on the ground in communities across America. Ranking Member Capito, Senator Boozman and I authored two recycling bills to improve data collection on our nation’s recycling and composting systems and to expand recycling infrastructure in rural communities. In fact, these bills just passed the Senate in March!

“In closing, I believe we should seize the opportunity in front of us to create a circular economy that protects our planet, strengthens our communities and creates jobs. And we must do so by collaborating across all levels of government, non-profits and the private sector, which we will hear much more about today.”