A Deep Dive into US Senate Bills on Recycling and Composting

In the past few months, we have covered a number of laws and acts regulating packaging producers at the state level, but are you aware that just weeks ago, the United States (US) Senate passed two acts to catalyze recycling and composting across the 50 states?

The two acts were passed on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 and include the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act (S.1194) and the Recycling and Infrastructure Accessibility Act (S. 1189). Both acts were reintroduced after failing to pass the House of Representatives in 2023 and as a result of continued calling for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement programs to boost composting and recycling rates.

We want to take a deep dive into S.1194 and S.1189, concentrating on their potential implications for the packaging industry in the US and beyond. 

Recycling and Composting Accountability Act (S.1194)

The Recycling and Composting Accountability Act was originally introduced April 19, 2023 by Democratic Senator Thomas R. Carper of Delaware. The Senate committee on Environment and Public Works, of which Senator Carper is a member, adopted the act and is a key supporter—similar to the Recycling and Infrastructure Accessibility Act. 

The Act calls for the EPA to conduct extensive data collection and reporting on the nation's composting and recycling programs. The EPA is also tasked with studying the capacity of the US to implement and manage a "national composting strategy," with the wider goal of reducing contamination rates for recycling. 

The Recycling and Composting Accountability Act also makes the EPA responsible for the following: 

  • Create an inventory of facilities that can recycle residential materials and outline the materials that each facility can process 

  • Manage the collection of data related to curbside recycling, drop-off recycling, and composting programs in an effort to establish a baseline of data for the recycling system in the US

  • Develop and document the best practices that states, local governments, and Indigenous communities can use to enhance rates of recycling and composting 

The Act is extensive; it also calls for the EPA to "develop a metric" to identify the amount of recyclable materials in commercial and municipal waste streams that are diverted from "circular markets." Following the development of the metric, the agency is responsible for studying the "proportion of recyclable materials in such waste streams that were diverted from those markets" in the prior ten years. 

Aside from the EPA, the bill calls for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on the recycling practices of the federal government. 

S.1194 and Packaging 

The term "packaging" is mentioned in the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act three separate times. 

The first mention of the term is in SEC. 4. REPORT ON COMPOSTING INFRASTRUCTURE CAPABILITIES subsection (D). The section lays out the requirements for data collection and reporting to support the EPA’s development of a national recycling and composting strategy. 

Subsection (D) states: “a study of the practices of manufacturers and companies that are moving to using compostable packaging and food service ware for the purpose of making the composting process the end-of-life use of those products.”

The second and third mention of the term “packaging” fall in SEC. 6. IMPROVING DATA AND REPORTING subsection (B). The section covers the specific requirements for the Inventory of Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF)—more particularly the description of materials each MRF can process.

Subsection (B) (i) (II) states: “in the case of plastic, a description of—the packaging or product format, such as a jug, a carton, or film.”

Subsection (B) (ii) states: “food packaging and service ware, such as a bottle, cutlery, or a cup.”

Subsection (B) also calls for descriptions of paper, aluminum, steel, glass, and more. 

S.1194 Timeline 

As we mentioned above, the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act was reintroduced in early March of this year after failing to pass the House of Representatives last year. 

The bill was introduced in April of 2023 and was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works. The act was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 105 in late June 2023. 

The act failed to pass but resurfaced March 12, 2024. An amendment—S.Amdt. 1692—was proposed by Senator Schumer on March 12 and was agreed upon the same day. The amendment calls for a new Section 9–AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS, which states, "There is authorized to be appropriated to the Administrator to carry out this Act $4,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2025 through 2029." The "Administrator" refers to the EPA. 

The act passed the Senate by unanimous consent on March 12, 2024, and the "Message on Senate Action" was sent to the US House of Representatives on March 14, 2024. The latest action related to the act is being claimed as "Held at the Desk" in the House as of March 15, 2024. 

Recycling and Infrastructure Accessibility Act (S.1189)

The second act, the Recycling and Infrastructure Accessibility Act, was introduced April 19, 2023 by Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Similar to the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act, this act was referred to and adopted by the Senate committee on Environment and Public Works. 

S.1189 creates requirements for the EPA to launch a pilot program focused on increasing recycling accessibility in communities across the US through grants and public-private collaboration. 

The grants will be distributed to states, local governments, Indigenous tribes, and public-private partnerships. The range of grant amounts includes no less than $500,000 and no more than $15,000,000. Additionally, grants will be focused on communities that are 75 miles or more from the nearest MRF.

Recycling accessibility is a prominent issue in the United States; The Recycling Partnership highlights that ~20 million households (63% of multi-family homes) are currently excluded from recycling schemes. This act, accompanied by the reporting and data collection requirements outlined in the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act, will work to expand recycling systems and improve rates of recovery.

The Goal of the pilot program, laid out in the text, is: “to fund eligible projects that will significantly improve accessibility to recycling systems through investments in infrastructure in underserved communities through the use of a hub-and-spoke model for recycling infrastructure development.” 

If you are wondering what constitutes an "underserved community," the text states, “a community, including an unincorporated area, without access to full recycling services.” Reasons outlined include:

  • Transportation, distance, etc. 

  • Insufficient processing capacity at local MRFs

S.1189 Timeline

Similar to S.1194, the Recycling and Infrastructure Accessibility Act was reintroduced on March 12, 2024 after failing to pass the House last year. The timeline of S.1189 follows that of S.1194 closely, both introduced on March 19, 2023 and receiving amendments from Senator Schumer on March 12, 2024. 

Senator Schumer proposed S.Amdt. 1691 which included a section on "Federal Share"—stating the “Federal Share of the cost of a project or program carried out by an eligible entity using grant funds shall be not more than 95 percent.” 

The latest action related to the bill is being claimed as "Held at the Desk" in the House of Representatives on March, 15, 2024. 

Opinions on the Acts 

With both acts awaiting further action in the House of Representatives, let’s take a look at the response from both the industry and public officials.

Industry Response

A Packaging Dive article highlights the response of Ameripen, a US trade association focused on advocating for packaging-related legislation that helps the environment and society. Ameripen claims the two acts “will enable the U.S. to reach ambitious and necessary goals of reusing more packaging materials and achieving a more circular economy.” 

The same article goes on to highlight the response of the CMI (Can Manufacturers Institute), in which Mike Smaha (VP of Government Relations) stated: “These bills will help the metal can industry with data to understand where the gaps are in metal can collection and recycling, so we can assess where investments should be made in better collection and sorting.” Although CMI supports the acts, Smaha went on to claim, “more action is needed if the United States is to achieve a higher national recycling rate, including a national recycling refund for beverage containers.”

The World Wildlife Fund supports the acts, stating:

The Recycling and Composting Accountability Act and Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act of 2023 will expand recycling infrastructure and help us better understand recycling and composting activities across the United States. Congress should advance these bills as important steps toward achieving a future where plastic no longer enters nature.”

Keurig Dr Pepper also weighed in with their thoughts on the acts, stating:

Keurig Dr Pepper strongly supports the bipartisan Recycling and Composting Accountability Act and the Recycling Infrastructure Accessibility Act. Together, these bills improve the score and accuracy of recycling and composting data collected by the EPA and access to recycling services in underserved areas—two critical steps towards strengthening the performance of our nation’s recycling and composting systems and a more circular economy.”

Public Official Reponses 

A Recycling Today article covering the acts quoted Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, offering his opinion on the acts. Reed stated:

These bipartisan bills will also help collect needed data to ensure recycling programs are working and develop a national composting strategy. And we’ve also got to do our part to reduce the amount of plastics we use in the first place, incentivize producers and manufacturers to be environmentally responsible and hold them accountable for their packaging.”

Republican Senator John Boozman of Arkansas, who worked with Senator Carper to introduce the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act, supported the acts stating:

These bills will lead to sustainable practices that preserve our resources while enhancing our nation’s recycling and composting infrastructure. I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass these common sense measures that will also benefit the economy and create jobs.”

Looking Ahead 

The two bills awaiting action in the House of Representatives act as an example of the power of bipartisan collaboration. The acts in conjunction have the potential to create jobs, catalyze circular economies, and help the US reach their goal of a national recycling rate of 50% by 2030—currently sitting at ~32%. 

The range of cosponsors for the bills includes participants from all over the political spectrum. Cosponsors for the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act include 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 1 Independent. The cosponsors of the Recycling and Infrastructure Accessibility Act include 9 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 1 Independent. 

The bills present creative approaches to tackle a number of issues plaguing the current landscape of recycling and composting in the US—including 1 in every 4 recycling items collected being contaminated (EPA/recyclops). The bills will also work to support the implementation of numerous Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs in a number of states, creating the foundation for more efficient and effective recycling and composting. 

The Recycling and Infrastructure Accessibility Act will also support EPR bills by increasing rates of collection in remote areas, increasing the availability of recycled materials to help firms meet material recycling targets laid out by different EPR laws. The potential success of EPR programs in California, Maine, and beyond could urge the Senate and House to explore a federal framework for EPR, but for now, we await further action on S.1194 and S.1189. 

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