Recycling is the process of reusing materials that are potentially useful, once they have been refurbished or salvaged from waste and discarded material. This is primarily done not only for economical reasons but to also save the ever depleting raw materials and natural resources, be more energy efficient, reduce pollution and carbon footprint and to also ensure that toxic, hazardous and expensive materials are extracted and appropriately consumed or disposed. Many different types of materials can be recycled – such as paper, metal, glass, plastic, textile and electronics. Typically, materials that are to be recycled are collected from household and industrial waste and then brought to a recycling center, where they are sorted, cleaned and reprocessed to produce the recycled material.
For a recycling initiative to be successful as well as financially viable, it has to be ensured that a large and stable supply of recycling material is made available to it for a long time. Legislation has played an important role in this, by implementing laws that make collection of recyclable material mandatory, through ‘container deposit legislation’ and bans of refuse.
The Role of EPA in Recycling Regulations
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (also referred to as the EPA), is the federal agency responsible for all matters related to waste material disposal, treatment and recycling; while also ensuring that the environment is protected. The EPA therefore formulates regulations pertaining to recycling, treatment of hazardous wastes, landfill regulations, as well as for setting recycling targets. While the EPA is responsible for the above at a national level, recycling legislation is also localized at a state or city level.
Ban on Landfills
Certain states in the US (namely North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin) have put a ban on landfills, thereby making it illegal to dispose of certain items (such as yard waste, oil, etc.) without recycling. Further, the National Computer Recycling Act makes it illegal to dispose of CRTs in landfills. Not only dumping in landfills is a waste of precious recyclable material, it may also lead to contamination of ground water with hazardous materials and toxins.
Container Deposit Legislation
Many US states (namely California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont) have a legislation that mandates the collection of a deposit whenever liquids such as carbonated drinks, milk, water or alcohol are sold in recyclable bottles and containers. However, this deposit is totally or partially refunded when these are returned in designated collection centers, which then aggregate all the recyclable material and send it onwards to recycling plants. The deposit is generally about five cents (with the highest being 10 cents in Michigan).
Some states (such as California and Illinois) have recycling targets. Cities like New York City and Seattle have laws that penalize citizens for throwing away recyclable materials. Additionally, governments also give incentives for running voluntary programs that encourage and educate people with the benefits of recycling.