Two bills backed by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., would boost recycling efforts nationwide by launching a national data collection effort and a grant program for communities with no access to recycling.
Recycling benefits not only the environment but also the economy, Boozman and Dan Holtmeyer, recycling program manager for the Northwest Arkansas Council, told Arkansas Business last week. That’s why it’s important that the Recycling & Composting Accountability Act aimed at data collection and the grant program-creating Recycling Infrastructure & Accessibility Act become laws.
The industry employs more than 1.1 million people and generates more than $236 billion a year in revenue, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Boozman noted that materials are in short supply, and businesses could better source some of them from U.S. recyclers.
Holtmeyer said businesses looking to locate in northwest Arkansas have asked about the volume of recycled materials available locally, materials like scrap metal, certain plastics, paper and cardboard. The numbers they need are not readily available because recycling programs are disparate and lack cohesion.
The data-collection bill could address this, helping communities avoid missing out on an economic development project, he said, though he declined to advocate for either bill.
Boozman said the bills would not change the fact that recycling programs are run at the state and local level and sometimes through private-public partnerships. He said their aim is to increase the efficiency of existing programs.
“What we’re doing right now, to be honest, is not working. You get into there are smaller communities where, simply, very little recycling is done,” Boozman said. “Many of our urban areas are gathering a lot of stuff, and instead of recycling it, much of it winds up in the landfill or is incinerated. So we want to change that.”
House sponsors are being sought now for both bills, neither of which saw opposition from the U.S. House Committee on Public Works, he said.
The senator called the bills “very bipartisan. It’s Democrats and Republicans working together to come up with a solution. … I think you have something that can be widely supported, which will be noncontroversial.”
Boozman is optimistic that both will become law. They took two years to draft and are the result of gathering stakeholder feedback at Senate Recycling Caucus meetings, he said. He co-chairs that caucus alongside Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
Once the accountability bill is passed, the EPA will have one year to prepare a report on recycling and composting infrastructure capabilities, recycling practices and material recovery facilities in the U.S., listing a number of data points that can be used to help states and municipalities engage more in recycling and composting, Boozman said.
Once the accessibility bill is passed, the EPA will have 18 months to set up the grant program. Funding for it then will have to go through the Appropriations Committees. Priority would go to grantees that are 75 miles from the nearest materials recovery facility.
There isn’t a northwest Arkansas community that is 75 miles from such a facility, so his region is unlikely to benefit from the new grant program, Holtmeyer said. But he believes several communities across the state would qualify.
Report Coming Soon
Holtmeyer was hired last year as part of the Northwest Arkansas Council’s new recycling program that’s financially backed by Walmart Inc. of Bentonville. He’s watching the data-collection bill because he’s been data collecting himself. Holtmeyer has compiled the region’s first comprehensive annual recycling report and said it could be released any day.
During that process he discovered that “some communities don’t, or at least couldn’t, easily provide just a plain old number for how much recycling they collected last year or any given year. Some communities can give a total, but that’s all they have ... Others can break down by material type for at least some of those items, or maybe all of them.
“Some recycling programs can give you how much of what material they got and where it went, then how dirty it was.”
Even recyclers collecting good information aren’t collecting the same data or collecting it in the same way, he said.
“Having a federal program would just make it, or would help make it, something we’re used to [doing], something that’s expected and commonplace. It’d get everybody on the same page,” Holtmeyer said. Having more information would help communities set goals and deliver results, too, he said.