According to the Washington Post, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced a new national recycling strategy on Monday, the first such commitment in the agency's history. This is a road map for the United States to achieve the goal of recycling at least half of its municipal waste within a decade. Considering that the recovery rate in the United States has actually been declining since 2015 and accounted for only about 32% of all municipal waste in 2018 (the latest year with EPA data), this is a sharp increase.
The recycling plan announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday is only the first part of a "series" of documents to be released by the agency. The agency plans to strive to achieve a "circular economy", or resources are recycled and reused to make new products, rather than ending them in landfills. Recycling itself will not have a huge impact on the world's garbage problem.
So far, the lack of federal recycling policy in the United States has hindered efforts to solve this problem. EPA plans to adopt several key strategies to achieve its new recycling goals. First, the United States will have to do better in collecting recyclable materials. The increase of online shopping has changed the direction of packaging waste. For example, due to the popularity of door-to-door delivery, there is less cardboard from shopping malls and grocery stores. Experts told the verge that this poses a problem for recycling companies because cardboard from people's homes is often dirtier than retailer waste. Many times, cardboard or plastic contaminated by food or other items cannot be recycled. Therefore, EPA plans to do more public publicity and education to ensure that more things people throw away are really recycled.
EPA also hopes to develop new markets for recycled materials so that the company is worth recycling. This means that there may be new policies or financial incentives to promote the demand for recycled materials. For example, the strategy document refers to a "demand challenge cooperation plan", which will recognize companies that use more recycled materials in their products. It is worth noting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that it may finally "explore" the ratification of the Basel Convention, an international treaty adopted in 1989 aimed at reducing the flow of E-Waste and other hazardous waste from rich countries to low-income countries.
The EPA said the new strategy also marks the first time that the agency's recycling program will link the relationship between waste, environmental injustice and the climate crisis. The modern environmental justice movement aims to prevent pollution from overburdening low-income communities and communities of color. Its root is the protest against the landfill built by a predominantly black community in North Carolina in the 1980s.
Recently, plastic pollution has become the focus of attention, because more and more studies have found that plastic also accumulates in the ocean, marine organisms and humans. Plastics are also linked to another environmental crisis: climate change. They are made from fossil fuels, and oil and gas companies are seeking to make greater efforts in the plastics business because renewable energy affects their profits.
The plastics industry has been promoting recycling as a way to solve its waste problem. But in fact, only about 9% of all plastic waste is recycled. Some environmental experts and activists also worry that developing the market for recycled plastics may actually boost the demand for new plastics. This is because the quality of materials usually decreases every time they are re produced, which is why products made of recycled plastics are usually reinforced with new plastics.
To stop the accumulation of plastics and other waste, it is necessary to systematically change the way materials are used, not just how to deal with them at the end of their life. This is why the EPA says it is trying to achieve a circular economy, which involves the whole life cycle of commodity production. Ultimately, the realization of circular economy will require the use of fewer raw materials, the design of products with longer service life and less resources, the formulation of policies and the establishment of infrastructure to effectively collect goods for reuse.
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