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Haaland pushes EPA for a national recycling strategy

Flattened aluminum cans make up part of a 900-pound bale ready for shipment from Friedman Recycling Plant in Albuquerque. U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, lower left, and other lawmakers are asking that the EPA develop a national recycling strategy. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland is among several lawmakers on Capitol Hill requesting the Environmental Protection Agency develop a national recycling strategy in response to a change in policy in China that has sharply reduced the import of foreign scrap materials, which they said has created a crisis for local recycling programs.

The New Mexico Democrat and other members of Congress sent EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler a letter earlier this month asking if the agency is developing a strategy to address the needs of municipalities where recycled items have been piling up that were once shipped overseas.

“This change in policy, and after three decades of reliance on China to accept American domestic recyclables, has created a crisis for states and municipalities across the country,” the letter said.

The lawmakers told Wheeler the U.S. lacked the infrastructure to meet current needs.

“Our reliance on China and the lack of local investment has resulted in the rapid decline of recycling programs across the country, with recyclable waste piling up in U.S. landfills, or worse yet, being incinerated and releasing harmful chemicals into the environment,” they said.

China’s decision to reduce the amount of recycled items it took in has caused the cost of running recycling programs in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to rise, according to a Journal story earlier this year. Both cities saw a rise in programs costing a few hundred thousands of dollars a year to $1 million or more in the past couple of years.

Bales of recycled plastic await shipping from Friedman Recycling Plant in Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“Albuquerque is taking the lead and implementing recycling programs and finding effective workarounds for this challenge, but recycling programs across the country are struggling,” Haaland told the Journal. “If we’re going to get serious about empowering our communities to reduce waste – we need to invest in local recycling infrastructure.”

The lawmakers’ letter to Wheeler said the change in China’s policy presented the U.S. with an opportunity to be a leader in the recycling industry “and stop the wasteful practice of throwing valuable materials away.”

The letter said the EPA reported in 2015 over $9 billion worth of recyclable materials were thrown away each year, and that was before China changed its policy.

It suggested that the EPA was best equipped to assist in developing a national strategy.

“We need a comprehensive solution that focuses on targeted investments in local recycling programs to enhance recycling infrastructures and promotes new technologies for sorting, reusing and converting waste into valuable goods,” the lawmakers said.

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