By Michael Vosnos, ARCOA – Last month, ARCOA President George Hinkle was among a group of the nation’s recycling leaders who went to Capitol Hill to meet with Congressional leaders and Trump Administration officials. The group’s message to leaders was that while the nation’s industrial, commercial, and residential recycling infrastructure is strong, there are some key policy areas that require adjustment in order to yield larger economic, environmental, and strategic benefits.
The recycling industry in America today touches almost every aspect of life. Taken together, the industry has created over 500,000 jobs with $33.5 billion in wages and approximately $110 billion in economic output. American manufacturers have come to largely depend on recycled materials as a key resource stream and access to rare earth materials used in high tech products are a national strategic priority. Processing recycled materials requires 60 percent less energy and generates 58 percent less CO2 emissions than raw materials and 2 out of every three pounds of steel made in the US comes from scrap steel.
Despite the essential role the recycling industry plays in the US economy, some significant hurdles remain. The group of industry leaders voiced their support for a number of policy initiatives aimed at creating greater economic and environmental efficiencies. First among these was their support for expanded access to international markets through global trade agreements. Specifically, they pressed their support for approval of the US Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) which has a direct and immediate effect on the 135,000 US workers that support recycling export to the US’s closest neighbors.
Second, these leaders sought changes to federal policy which would recognize recycled materials as the valuable commodities they are and not as solid waste. This classification is important as it impacts the way these materials can be used, exported and traded. Currently, recycled materials arriving in foreign countries come with a bill of lading labeling them as “waste” when they are not. This lack of clarity in classification places significant restrictions on the use of these materials despite the fact that they are environmentally and economically preferable to raw materials.
Finally, in an effort to further spur domestic demand for recycled materials, recyclers pressed congressional and administrative officials to employ recycled materials into infrastructure projects where economically and technologically feasible. This would include the use of rubberized asphalt in the construction of roads, plastic in guard rails and the use of rebar from ferrous scrap.
Hinkle played a key role during the assembly of industry leaders, meeting with senior staff members of Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durban (D-IL) and Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL 10th District). Last November, he was called upon to brief Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Tom Carper (D-DE) on the environmental and economic benefits specific to electronics recycling. And last fall, Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL 15th District), who chairs the House Recycling Caucus, toured ARCOA facilities in Waukegan, IL as part of his briefing from Hinkle on the unique features and policy challenges relating to electronics recycling such as data security, hazardous material, and reuse capabilities.
Such advocacy efforts have already born fruit in the policy arena. For instance, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act overturned the 2012 decision by the Library of Congress which ruled that the unlocking of smartphones was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Effectively, this gave consumers the ability to switch cell phone providers without having to replace their phones. While consumers were elated by this change in law, what few of them realized was that it was a result largely of the lobbying efforts of the electronic recycling industry. It is hoped that similar efforts in Washington last month will yield similar results.