Click here to watch Chairman Barrasso’s remarks.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks at an oversight hearing titled “Responding to the Challenges Facing Recycling in the United States.”
The hearing featured testimony from Bridget Croke, managing director of Closed Loop Partners; Meghan Stasz, vice president of packaging and sustainability at Consumer Brands Association; and Nina Bellucci Butler, chief executive officer of More Recycling.
For more information on witness testimony click here.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“Today, we will consider the recent challenges facing recycling programs in the United States and the potential solutions to these challenges.
“I will tell you, the big story in the Casper newspaper is today we are opening the recycling facilities that we have all around Casper that have been closed as a result of the coronavirus crisis that is affecting us for a number of months.
“We will look specifically at consumer goods, including paper, plastics, metals, and glass.
“I would point out that in reading this article today in the Casper Star Tribune, they said we are not able to again recycle glass.
“We will be recycling paper, plastics, and others but not glass.
“It’s interesting as we deal with this topic of recycling, what you can and can’t, and could and no longer can, and what we should in the future.
“We have a shared responsibility to keep recyclable materials and other waste out of the environment.
“In the United States, state and local laws – not federal laws – govern recycling.
“That means towns, cities, counties manage recycling programs.
“Local recycling programs can consist of ‘curbside recycling,’ which takes place alongside weekly trash collections.
“These programs can also include ‘drop-off recycling,’ which is what we have in Casper, Wyoming which involves Americans taking their recyclable goods to one or more collection sites.
“Local governments typically fund recycling programs through the sale of recyclable materials and user fees.
“While we’re opening our recycling centers again in Wyoming, what we know is it’s now a cost to do it.
“It doesn’t pay for itself, especially with the distances we are from other communities.
“For decades, communities in the U.S. sold much – if not most – of their recyclable materials for export to China.
“Chinese manufacturers were hungry for raw materials.
“And large cargo ships – which would otherwise return empty to China – often made it less expensive to export recyclable materials than transport the materials locally.
“In 2018, China all but ended imports of mixed paper and mixed plastic.
“As a result, the value of these materials collapsed.
“In response, local governments have had to decide whether to raise user fees or end, suspend, or scale back their recycling programs.
“What we’re seeing in Wyoming today is there’s been a debate at city council.
“Should we end this program?
“It’s an important program.
“What other public services will not be granted because of the money that’s going to be used for the cost to recycle – a program that used to pay for itself?
“When local governments end or suspend recycling, recyclables often end up in landfills.
“This is something no one wants to see.
“Another challenge facing recycling programs is the issue of contamination.
“Contamination occurs when consumers mix recyclable material with material that can’t be recycled or material that can’t be recycled locally.
“Contamination lowers the value of recyclable materials and can drain revenue from local recycling programs.
“When China imported much of our recyclable waste, we didn’t have to worry as much about contamination.
“China and other countries sorted our waste for us.
“Now that these countries have imposed import restrictions, we have been forced to confront contamination head on.
“State and local governments believe that if they can reduce contamination, they can find or develop new markets for their recyclable materials.
“Local recycling programs are responding in several ways.
“Some have launched campaigns to educate consumers about what can and cannot be recycled.
“Others have switched from single-stream recycling to dual or multi-stream recycling.
“Others have invested in new technologies that can sort materials with greater sophistication.
“The private sector has also taken additional steps to boost recycling capacity here in the U.S.
“Consumer product companies have pledged to use more recyclable materials in their products and packaging.
“Companies are making investments in what is known as ‘advanced recycling.’
“Advanced recycling is a group of technologies that use heat or chemicals to break down certain plastics and other materials.
“With traditional or mechanical recycling, plastics can only be recycled a few times and generally for lower-quality goods.
“Advanced recycling allows plastics to be reused indefinitely.
“They also allow plastics to be used for other high-quality products.
“Advanced recycling won’t replace traditional or mechanical recycling.
“But it can reduce the need to produce new materials.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new set of challenges.
“It has disrupted curbside recycling in many communities.
“Nine of the ten states that have bottle and can redemption programs have suspended these programs because of the pandemic.
“It has also contributed to the collapse in crude oil prices, which reduces the value of many recyclable materials.
“Finally, COVID-19 has called into question taxes and bans on single use plastics.
“In its reopening guidelines, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged restaurants to ‘use disposal food service items [such as] utensils [and] dishes.’
“California, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Oregon as well as a number of municipalities have delayed or suspended their bans and taxes on single-use plastic shopping bags.
“Some state and city governments – along with nationwide retail chains – have even prohibited reusable bags.
“The pandemic has reminded us of the critical role that single use plastics play in protecting public health.
“To help us navigate these challenges, we have a panel of three experts who will help identify potential solutions for communities and companies alike.
“Senator Udall is also here, and he cares deeply about recycling, and is here to share his thoughts with the committee.”