Zero Waste Humboldt: National Recycling Strategy

Maggie Gainer, Zero Waste Humboldt Consultant

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is developing a series of strategies to “build a circular economy for all.” The first part of the series is the National Recycling Strategy, which identifies actions to address the U.S. municipal solid waste recycling system’s challenges. 

A circular economy approach is essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for ensuring communities do not bear the environmental impacts of natural resource use.  A circular economy approach reduces materials use, redesigns materials to be less resource intensive, and recaptures “waste” as a resource that can serve as feedstock to manufacture new materials and products. 

Conceptual Material Flow of the U.S. Recycling System from Reframing Recycling and the Case for a Circular Economy Approach. Source: National Recycling Strategy

The five main objectives of the EPA’s National Recycling Strategy are:

  • Improve markets for recycled commodities,  
  • Increase collection and improve materials management infrastructure,
  • Reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream,
  • Enhance policies and programs to support circularity,
  • Standardize measurement and increase data collection.

While these are good objectives, they don’t focus on the root of the problem – the unrelenting over-production of single use products and packaging that cannot be addressed by public education and recycling collection. They are much like the objectives of recycling planning documents of 25 years ago. 

 Many Zero Waste and environmental organizations have expressed disappointment and the hopes that the next strategies coming from EPA will be more progressive, including prevention strategies and infrastructure for more materials reuse systems. 

When previous Presidents — Reagan, Bush, and Trump — attacked the EPA with budget cuts and staff layoffs, it took time for the next administration to rebuild the agency and its strengths. We’re hoping that upcoming strategy reports in this series will concentrate more on waste prevention and reuse solutions. Read the National Recycling Strategy at: