EPA Responds to Rep. Stevens' Letter About the Agency’s Recycling Efforts

July 10, 2019
Press Release

EPA Responds to Rep. Stevens Letter About the Agency’s Recycling Efforts

“While I appreciate the EPA’s ongoing efforts to promote recycling, the federal government has to do more,” says Rep. Stevens

WASHINGTON — Last week, Congresswoman Stevens (MI-11) received a response from Barry N. Breen, Acting Assistant Administrator of the Environment Protection Agency’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, after sending the EPA a letter in April to request more information about the agency’s efforts to improve the national recycling infrastructure of the United States and foster the development of new and emerging technologies in plastics recycling.

Specifically, Rep. Stevens’ letter asked why the EPA had not updated data on the generation of recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery and landfilling of materials in the United States since 2015, what steps the EPA is taking to build out the national recycling infrastructure of the United States, and how the EPA is working to mitigate the ongoing impacts of China’s plastic ban and the resulting market costs for U.S. cities and states.

In response to Rep. Stevens’ letter, Acting Assistant Administrator Breen informed Rep. Stevens that the EPA will publish recycling data for both 2016 and 2017 this fall. Acting Assistant Administrator Breen also highlighted several ongoing projects and industry outreach to improve the national recycling infrastructure of the United States.

“While I appreciate the EPA’s ongoing efforts to promote recycling, the federal government has to do more to help our local and state governments, which are now struggling with the rapidly rising costs and logistical burden of recycling alone,” said Congresswoman Stevens. “I look forward to working with the EPA on concrete steps to help our municipalities with their immediate needs as we look to build our country’s recycling and sustainable waste management infrastructure to reduce our reliance on countries like China.”

Background: Rep. Stevens on Recycling

  • Last month, the House of Representatives unanimously passed Rep. Stevens’ amendment to instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to prioritize funding to develop a national recycling strategy to ensure the long-term economic and environmental viability of local recycling programs.
  • As Chair of the Research & Technology Subcommittee, Rep. Stevens convened the first Science Committee hearing about recycling in a decade after hearing concerns about the long-term viability of local recycling programs in southeast Michigan. Paul Sincock, the City Manager of Plymouth, Michigan, came to Washington to testify during the hearing.
  • Rep. Stevens introduced H. Res. 303, a bipartisan resolution expressing support for global Remanufacturing Day. Remanufacturing is the process by which used products are returned to good-as-new (or better) condition, and contributes to sustainable manufacturing by recycling old products.

Click HERE to read the full text of the response, or see below:

The Honorable Haley Stevens 

U.S. House of Representatives 

Washington, D.C. 20515 

Dear Congresswoman Stevens: 

Thank you for your letter of April 29, 2019, to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, regarding the state of recycling and waste management infrastructure in the United States. The EPA has been working hard to address many of the recent challenges that have impacted our nation's material recovery system. 

Our recycling system is a strong and important part of the U.S. economy, and new challenges make it even more important. For example, the EPA's 2016 analysis found the U.S. recycling industry provides more than 757,000 jobs and $6.7 billion in tax revenues each year. However, recent data indicate that materials worth as much as $9 billion are thrown away each year, providing an opportunity for an even greater contribution. 

On America Recycles Day (ARD), held on November 15, 2018, Administrator Wheeler hosted a group of senior-level executives from a wide array of industry, non-profit and government organizations to discuss opportunities to advance and strengthen the domestic recycling system. At this event, more than 40 key industry stakeholders signed a pledge to work together to improve the state of recycling in the United States. The 2018 ARD Summit focused on four action areas to guide progress over the next year, which include providing education and outreach; enhancing materials management infrastructure; strengthening secondary materials markets; and enhancing measurement methodologies to track our progress. 

Since the summit, the EPA has convened four stakeholder workgroups to develop a draft framework for these action areas. The framework will ultimately serve as the overarching guide to address the current challenges facing our recycling system and will include both near- and long-term actions, such as developing key and consistent recycling messages; creating a publicly available clearinghouse for resources on improving recycling infrastructure; and compiling information on a range of material management metrics and measures. 

No one organization has the resources necessary to address all the challenges to our materials recovery system, so significant progress requires collective action. The progress will be highlighted during American Recycles Day this November. 

The EPA is engaged in several efforts to provide information, best practices and data the public needs to monitor their recycling efforts. Some examples include: 

  • We are helping stimulate demand for recycling materials by designating the minimum recycled content of products purchased by federal agencies through the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines; 
  • We are working with the Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP), along with the American Chemistry Council and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to address hard-to-recycle plastic film packaging; 
  • We are encouraging the use of sustainable materials management through recognition programs, such as the Electronics Challenge, which not only reduce the amount of waste at a single facility, but also inspire others to follow their lead; and 
  • We are implementing the Waste Wise program, in which organizations and businesses reduce waste voluntarily and incorporate sustainable materials management into their efforts. This program has helped organizations prevent and divert millions of tons of waste since 1994. 

You indicated concern about the timing of the publication of EPA's data on generation of recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery and landfilling of materials. Normally, it takes two to three years to prepare this information as the process entails collecting data from external sources, as well as analyzing and synthesizing the information for publication on our Material, Waste and Recycling website at https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling. We will be publishing data for both 2016 and 2017 this fall. 

Through the efforts mentioned above, the EPA will continue to encourage improvement and investment in the U.S. recycling system. By convening stakeholders and working together, we hope to improve the recycling system and also support more competitive manufacturing by using materials from recycled products. 


Barry N. Breen 

Acting Assistant Administrator