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EPA Administrator Wheeler Delivers Address at 3rd Annual America Recycles Summit

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WASHINGTON (November 17, 2020) — Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler delivered an address at the 3rd Annual America Recycles Summit. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Good afternoon, and welcome to the EPA’s 2020 America Recycles Summit.

America has had a long-standing commitment to conservation and environmental stewardship.

As a nation, we are blessed with abundant resources, and we all want to protect the value of those resources so that future generations can enjoy them.

We know that recycling is one of the most widely available ways to have a positive impact on the environment.

From children in school, to families in the suburbs, to urbanities in the big cities and companies of every size, we can each do our part to conserve valuable materials and keep them from ending up in our Nation’s landfills.

The EPA has made recycling a priority.

Recycling is key to maintaining domestic supply chains while conserving our natural resources, and it’s a vital source of jobs.

The EPA has led a revival of the United States recycling system, which faces significant challenges ranging from consumer confusion, reduced international markets, and old recycling infrastructure that has not kept pace with modern material streams.

Where We Are

During my time at the EPA, we’ve done a lot to elevate the discussion and bring stakeholders together across the value chain to identify strategies and actions to increase recycling.

  • In 2018, we held the first ever America Recycles Day Summit with 45 stakeholders signing the America Recycles Pledge.
  • Today, over 290 organizations have signed the pledge to address challenges facing our recycling system and to identify solutions.
  • Last year, EPA held the first ever recycling Innovation Fair to showcase innovative approaches to recycling challenges.
  • Yesterday, we held our 2nd annual Innovation Fair, this time virtually. We had 42 exhibitors and over 6,600 booth visits by 850 visitors.
  • At the 2019 Summit, I announced that EPA would establish a National Recycling Goal in 2020.
  • Over the course of the past year, the EPA has worked with the America Recycles Pledge stakeholders on a national recycling goal and the National Recycling Strategy that will help us get there.

The EPA recognizes that collective commitments are best achieved when we have a common goal.

Goals provide inspiration and a collective target. They motivate us and help stimulate healthy competition. A national goal and its related metrics will help our collective efforts to improve the nation’s recycling system.

When the EPA was established 50 years ago in 1970, the national recycling rate was well below 10 percent.

The establishment of EPA and the increased focus of the American people on protection of the environment led to improvements in the recycling rate.

We had a steep increase in recycling rates in the 1990’s that brought the rate up to the mid-30 percent range. But for the last twenty years or so, the recycling rate has remained mostly flat.

That’s why I’m excited to announce the first-ever National Recycling Goal to increase the national recycling rate to 50 percent by 2030 – 50 by 30. Reaching this goal will not be easy. But it will be important.

Implementing this goal will require collaboration at all levels of government and across the value chain.

EPA’s National Recycling Strategy

In October, we released a draft National Recycling Strategy to provide the high-level framework needed to achieve this goal. The draft National Recycling Strategy focuses on three key objectives:

  1. Reducing contamination in the recycling stream. This helps ensure that clean recyclable materials can be processed and made into new products.
    • The idea is to go back to the basics: recycle empty and dry cans, paper, and clean cardboard.
    • Keep food and liquids out of the recycling bins.
    • No plastic bags or wraps should go in recycling bins.
    • Take them instead to separate recycling bins at participating grocery and retail stores.
  2. Increasing processing efficiency. We can achieve this through improvements to our processing system. We need to invest in new equipment upgrades and expand access to curbside recycling for more Americans.
  3. Strengthening markets for recycled materials. This will help ensure manufacturers make more products using recycled materials and bolster public demand.

I invite you to comment on our draft National Recycling Strategy through December 4th. Specifically, we welcome comments on how to measure progress and the actions needed to achieve these objectives. Each of these objectives covers a critical area that, if improved, would increase the performance of the entire recycling system.

Rhetoric vs. Outcomes

It’s also worth remembering that there are critics to an increased focus on recycling by EPA. This is both surprising and disappointing.

Earlier this year, the Washington Post criticized EPA’s Earth Day focus on litter and recycling as a “retrograde vision” of what it means to be an environmentalist in 2020.

Speaking as an environmentalist, I completely disagree with the view that recycling is something to be left behind in the 1970s. There is more good to be done for America’s environment in the 21st century by increasing our recycling rate than almost any other single activity.

Today's America Recycles Summit 

As part of today’s program, we will feature panel discussions with federal agencies and key stakeholders on actions that can be taken to implement the National Recycling Strategy and support the National Recycling Goal.

Later this afternoon, we will be hosting breakout sessions on key topics including:

  • Bolstering Markets for Recyclables
  • Effective Strategies for Reducing Contamination
  • Effective Strategies in Tribal and Territorial Materials Management and Recycling Systems
  • Closing the Loop: The Importance of Buying Recycled
  • U.S. Federal Strategy for Addressing the Global Issue of Marine Litter 

Looking Ahead at Future Progress

In 2021, the EPA will finalize the National Recycling Strategy, the roadmap for achieving the national recycling goal. We have some of our brightest minds working in the recycling industry.

If every one of you and every organization represented here today embraces EPA’s national goal, we can reach our goal, create more jobs, and conserve our natural resources.

Let’s work together to recycle right and recycle more.

Let’s reach 50 by 30.

Today you’ll hear a message from the Japanese Ambassador Shinsuke Sugiyama about efforts Japan is taking to increase recycling. Countries have much to learn from one another regarding how to surmount environmental challenges.

The United States has collaborated with Japan on recycling in several international forums in recent years. These forums have done a great job giving participants an opportunity to share best practices and national experiences on recycling.

Later today we’ll hear from stakeholders on EPA’s recently released U.S. Federal Strategy for Addressing the Global Issue of Marine Litter, that provides a strategic model to prevent waste from entering our oceans in the first place.

This strategy is based on four pillars that define the U.S. approach to addressing land-based and sea-based sources of marine litter:

  • Building capacity for waste and litter management and removal systems
  • Incentivizing the global recycling market in partnership with the private sector
  • Promoting research and development for innovative solutions and technology
  • Promoting marine litter removal, including litter capture systems in rivers and inland waterways

This topic is of major importance both for Japan and the United States, and the support of the ambassador’s government has been a crucial help for us going forward. It’s important that we get this right.

In that light of working together, I am honored to now introduce the Ambassador of Japan to the United States, Shinsuke Sugiyama. Ambassador Sugiyama will be joining us by video to tell us more about how Japan is working to address these great challenges.

Thank you.”