Building America’s Zero Waste Future — Episode 135 of Building Local Power

On this episode of Building Local Power, host Jess Del Fiacco is joined by Neil Seldman, Director of ILSR’s Waste to Wealth initiative. Jess and Neil interview Gary Liss, Vice President of Zero Waste USA, and Bob Gedert, President of the National Recycling Coalition, about the Recycling Is Infrastructure Too (RIIT) campaign and the proposed American Recycling Infrastructure Plan (ARIP).

Highlights of their conversation include:

  • Why now is the right moment for investing in recycling infrastructure, and how this could reshape American recycling.
  • The current landscape of federal legislation and how the RIIT campaign is influencing policy decisions and rulemaking.
  • Key provisions in the proposed American Recycling Infrastructure Plan and how each of them move the recycling needle forward in the US.
  • How the ARIP would help level the playing field for small-scale reuse and recycling enterprises.

 

“Zero waste is all about not only diverting tons, but reinvesting those resources in the community. And the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan is based on that idea: that we should not only invest in recycling and composting, but also in those other activities upstream, to redesign the systems and to set up reuse programs and reuse facilities, and help with innovations like fix-it clinics, and repair fairs, and other new reuse systems for reusable foodware that are being pioneered all over the country… We’re not just investing in diversion from landfills and incinerators. We’re investing and reinvesting those resources in the local economy.”

 

Join the next Recycling Is Infrastructure Too Webinar, “What’s IN the Infrastructure Bills for Recycling?” on September 28th! Learn more and register here. 

Jess Del Fiacco: Hello, and welcome to Building Local Power, a podcast dedicated to thought provoking conversations about how we can challenge corporate monopolies, and expand the power of people to shape their own future. I’m Jess Del Fiacco, the host of Building Local Power and communications manager here at the Institute for Local Self Reliance. For more than 45 years, ILSR has worked to build thriving, equitable communities, where power, wealth, and accountability remain in local hands. Welcome to the show. Today, I am joined by Neil Seldman, who is the director of ILSR’s Waste to Wealth program, as well as Gary Liss, who is the vice-president of Zero Waste USA, and Bob Gedert, who is the president of the National Recycling Coalition. So welcome to the show, all of you.
Neil Seldman: Thank you.
Gary Liss: Thank you.
Bob Gedert: Thank you very much.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah, we are so happy to have you. We’re going to talk about the Recycling is Infrastructure Too campaign, which Neil, Gary and Bob are all involved with, as well as the proposed American Recycling Infrastructure Plan. And I think Neil, I will give it to you to maybe give us a little bit more context before we get going with questions, so.
Neil Seldman: Thank you, Jess. And thank you, Gary and Bob for joining us. I want to point out that Gary and Bob have each put in decades upon decades of work on recycling, zero waste, and it’s been a pleasure working with them from the point of view of the Institute for Local Self Reliance. We’ve done many projects and many good discussions together. This is a very nice occasion for myself. We’re addressing recycling in the middle of a lot of dynamic change in the country, in the recycling and wasting fields. And we’re hoping to clarify some of those.
Neil Seldman: I just want to point out that the key, in my opinion, to the next few years is getting money, investment capital, to the local governments for the necessary infrastructure changes for composting, reuse, recycling, and of course, waste prevention. There are a lot of different approaches to this. The issue of extended producer responsibility is very much in the air at the state level and at the federal level. And the efforts that we’re looking at do not mean that EPR is not a useful tool.
Neil Seldman: EPR is certainly a useful tool, but we all know that it’s very controversial. It’s happening at the state and federal level. And from my interview of a good many people promoting EPR, the issue in Congress will probably take three years, if not more, to get through Congress under the best of circumstances, as we know Congress is split right now. So the importance of this interview is to find out, is… not is… but what are the alternatives for immediate injection of cash to local governments, cities, counties, to move this recycling movement, zero waste movement, forward? And I think what we’re going to hear is that there are alternatives, and that these alternatives are involved in legislation that is actually in the pipeline already in Congress.
Neil Seldman: So the potential for the Recycling is Infrastructure Too campaign, and of course the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan is very pertinent, because we will be hopefully getting these infrastructure bills through Congress, and the monies will be flowing to the local level. And now I’m going to look forward to how Gary and Bob describe what they’re involved in. And again, thank you for the audience listening, and thank you to Bob, Jess and Gary for participating.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thanks, Neil. So I think that leads us right to Gary. Could you talk about what the Recycling is Infrastructure Too campaign, which Neil just mentioned? What that is, and what you’re advocating for, what your strategy is to make this change?
Gary Liss: Yeah. So thank you so much, Justin, Neil, for this opportunity. One of the things that was happening earlier this year was a new administration on Institute for Local Self Reliance, and Zero Waste USA started talking about how to influence them to focus on recycling and zero waste more broadly. And working with the National Recycling Coalition, decided to do a letter to the president and Vice President Harris in March of 2021, outlining the types of things we were hoping they would do to promote all the benefits of expanded recycling, waste reduction, reuse, and composting to get to zero waste. That would have many benefits, including job creation and addressing climate change, which was clearly a priority for this administration. The National Recycling Coalition joined in that effort around April and May, and helped follow up the letter to the president and vice president with a change.org petition, and then National Recycling Coalition led the development of the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan.
Gary Liss: Some of the key messages that we’ve been advocating for is that recycling is infrastructure too. That in all the talk about infrastructure, there hadn’t been as much attention focused on it, particularly in the general media, that recycling, reuse, composting, creates lots of jobs, but needs infusion of capital to address some of the issues that Neil was talking about in his introductory comments. And the messages we were trying to get across is for US senators and Congress representatives to understand that recycling needs to be part of this. And one of the ideas is that include as eligible activities for all infrastructure projects, use of reuse systems, recycled content, and compost products. That’s one of the basic messages, Bob will be going into more of the details that we came up with. The campaign has been doing monthly webinars, and in our webinar in July, Bob highlighted the details of the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan, which our network had been calling upon what are we specifically advocating for in more detail, and that’s what the plan is outlining.
Jess Del Fiacco: Could you talk a little bit more about these discussions you’ve been organizing? I mean, you’re bringing a lot of different voices into this conversation to determine priorities. So what are some of the things you’ve discussed in these monthly webinars? What are you planning to talk about in the future, and who’s involved?
Gary Liss: Sure. So far we’ve focused on the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan. Most recently, the better bottle bill, the best bottle bill possible that Institute for Local Self Reliance hosted in August. And that was recommended as part of the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan, to go for and support a national bottle bill. We’ve done other webinars earlier, just trying to figure out what has been done, in terms of advocating for recycling infrastructure. And we’ve had convened and invited the key lobbyists who are at the table already in DC, to have them tell us what was going on and what could be possible to include in the message.
Gary Liss: And that’s been one of the big successes. Our campaign doesn’t have a big budget, actually, no budget. And we are relying on understanding what is happening in DC by engaging and involving the different lobbyists who are already there. Like people from ISRI, the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries, and the Solid Waste Association of North America, the Break Free From Plastic Network. So environmental, local government, and industry lobbyists that are working every day in DC on these issues have been part of our campaign, and some of our earlier webinars where we’re getting their input, which then led into the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan.
Neil Seldman: Gary, I want to ask you a quick question here. I know that the break free from plastic bill at the federal level has been put in through Congress, but could you just give us a bit of detail about the bottle bill component of the general break free bill, and the latest developments in Congress as far as the bottle bill is concerned? The national bottle bill.
Gary Liss: Yeah, actually, it’s a really interesting area of this activity. In Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, introduced most recently by Representative Lowenthal from California and Senator Merkley, it includes beverage containers as part of an extended producer responsibility EPR system. And that was the type of thing that was of concern to some folks, including the National Sierra Club just recently came out with a beverage container guidance document, saying to be careful about doing exactly that. That it was, Sierra Club highlighted that the bottle bills are much more effective in getting recovery of quality materials when there’s a deposit on containers directly, like in the 10 states that already have beverage container deposits incorporated into them.
Gary Liss: That there’s a better return and recovery of high quality material from those programs than there might be through a beverage container EPR program. And because of that concern, the Sierra Club just came out with this guidance document, highlighting those details. What’s being proposed that we understand is a separate and distinct national bottle bill. It’s not the first time it’s been introduced, but it’s building off of the momentum coming out of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. The people who are working on that worked on the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, and they hope to have a standalone national bottle bill coming forward shortly.
Neil Seldman: Thank you, Gary.
Jess Del Fiacco: I had a question about, well, two things. One is, why now? Why is this the moment for this change? And then what’s your sense of, I guess, awareness and support among legislators for what you’re arguing for? Are you having to do a lot of education, or are people already pretty receptive and understanding of the issues that you’re advocating about?
Gary Liss: Well, as far as why now is infrastructure is finally getting its due. There’ve been many folks involved in championing the need to invest in our national infrastructure, from transportation, to energy, to communications, and even on recycling. Five years ago, ISRI highlighted that they were working on the Recycle Act, and proposing to move forward with that. The National Recycling Coalition also discussed those types of issues five years ago. But it was with the new administration, commitment to infrastructure in the time of COVID as not only helping to address investment, and infusion of funds into the economy, to strengthen, to build back better. But also I would say a once in a generation investment in competing in the global marketplace. So infrastructure and getting the entire country economy and moving in a more efficient way has become something that is a bipartisan interest. And in fact, in August, the 2,700 page HR3684 Infrastructure Investment in Jobs Act was approved by the United States Senate, which was fantastic.
Gary Liss: In July, the Compost Act was introduced. The Recycle Act had been introduced before, and the Recover Act and several other acts. And the way we understand things are happening in Congress is people focus on a particular subject area, like the Recycle Act, and they may not think that that bill will get adopted as is, but they may get be part of another bill. And that’s exactly what happened. The Recycle Act was incorporated into the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment Act in August. And as a result, we have several hundred million dollars of funds targeted for implementing the Save Our Seas Act that was adopted and signed into law last year, in 2020. Millions of dollars for the EPA to help on recycling right outreach and education programs, and up to $3 billion to deal with the critically important problems associated with battery recycling, and addressing the problems of battery fires, particularly from lithium ion batteries, that’s burning down our infrastructure all over the country.
Gary Liss: So the bipartisan Investment Act is well on its way to addressing some really important aspects of what our needs are in the recycling world, and the zero waste arena. So now is the time, while there’s this momentum, while there’s this focus on infrastructure, to be part of all that movement. And we’re not having to convince people. The congressional leaders had been hearing about these things for years. What we’re needing to do is get our best ideas going forward to them, to incorporate into these different acts that can then be massaged in the sausage making process that is congressional legislation, into something that will get enough votes to get through both the Senate and the House.
Neil Seldman: Gary, thank you so much for these details. You’ve been a terrific liaison with the recycling movement, and the zero waste movement, between us and Congress. And I just want to let the audience know that Gary has been identified as the vice president of Zero Waste USA, a nonprofit, but I also want to point out that he’s a very formative participant in the Sierra Club, as he mentioned earlier, and also with the National Recycling Coalition. So Gary covers a lot of bases.
Jess Del Fiacco: And as always, we’ll have links to those different organizations, and any other resources that are mentioned in this conversation, in the show notes for this episode on our website.
Neil Seldman: As we transition temporarily to Bob Gedert, I want to point out, of course, he’s the president of the National Recycling Coalition, but Bob has been a very active player, and among his many accomplishments, he took over the Zero Waste Program in Austin, Texas, which is a leading US city. He oversaw the Zero Waste Business Plan, which is quite a remarkable document. And he oversaw the development of the Zero Waste Plan for Austin, and among the other great things he’s done, he immediately renamed the department of solid waste in Austin to the department of resource recovery, which is a great psychological and strategic move. So it’s a pleasure to be talking to Bob, given his quite successful career in zero waste and recycling.
Bob Gedert: Thank you, Neil. Thank you. And pleasure to be speaking to our audience today.
Jess Del Fiacco: Yeah. So I think Gary mentioned trying to package all of your best ideas in order to get them out there, and into the hands of people who can make them happen. So I think it’s up to you to tell us what the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan is that you’ve developed, and how it was constructed.
Bob Gedert: Yes. And thank you, Jess, for this program. And the question at hand, when we first heard President Biden speaking about infrastructure and the jobs bill early on, our first thoughts were on the great opportunity before us, of new roads and bridge construction infrastructure bill, and that it could utilize reused, recycled, and composted material. And all the way across the country, and that was our starting point there. Then our thoughts expanded to the fact that our recycling infrastructure across the country is aged, and in need of rebuilding to meet the recent 21st century needs. So to bring those thoughts further forward, we developed the Recycling Infrastructure Too campaign that Gary was speaking of, expanding the traditional definition of infrastructure to include recycling infrastructure. Moving forward from there, we built up the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan on two starting platforms. We incorporated the basic initiatives from some prior advocacy plans from some numerous partners of ours.
Bob Gedert: We wanted to start with a good starting base of some very good ideas. And then we added some NRC policy initiatives that supported waste reduction, reuse, and recycling activities that were not addressed in these other plans. So we’ve built around these plans. This strategy created a comprehensive 50 initiative plan that is synergetic, and creative, and approaches an infrastructure that’s built around the three Rs, the reduce, reuse and recycle, and the plan was released on July 15th. It was sent to congressional staff and media contacts, and it has 50 initiatives like I mentioned, and includes requests for funding of $6.6 billion in the first year, and over a three-year package plan, the plan recommends a total investment of $16.3 billion. So that was our starting point. We are now campaigning for the inclusion of these 50 initiatives in the infrastructure conversations.
Neil Seldman: Bob, if I could interject a quick question here, I know that the NRC ARIP plan drew on other plans. Could you just mention the other plans that you analyzed, curated, and eventually harmonized into your ARIP plan?
Bob Gedert: Absolutely. Yes. The other plans we’ve worked on, and they’re very good advocacy plans, we pulled strengths from the paying it forward, the recycling partnership plan, the US food loss and waste policy action plan, which is a partnership of Harvard Law, Policy Clinic, Re-fed, and RDC, and WWF. Also recommendations to reduce plastic from pollution, from the Break Free From Plastics Act, priority plastics actions from President Biden’s first year, and the compost act from the compost infrastructure coalition. All of those had very strong recommendations that we pulled from, and that’s about 25 to 30 of our recommendations. And then we built around there, and added another 25 recommendations and basic initiatives, to create our 50 initiative plan.
Neil Seldman: Great, thanks. I think people will appreciate that methodology.
Jess Del Fiacco: So this is substantial, to say the least. There’s a lot in here. Could you share what are the highlights of the plan, and then how do you picture each of them changing recycling in the United States?
Bob Gedert: Yes. And I’ll start, obviously I can’t list all 50 of them, but I’ll highlight some of the major initiatives. Funding the implementation of cart based collection to improve recycling services to 38 million residents in underserved communities. Recognizing that major cities may have curbside recycling, but some of the underserved communities that can’t afford it don’t have a recycling services. Invest in new and existing material recovery facilities, MRFs, and certain areas don’t have MRF sheds, that hamper collection of recyclables. Invest in hub and spoke transfer infrastructure in the rural areas where it’s more efficient to create collection infrastructure, recycling collection infrastructure, through a hub and spoke system rather than a single stream MRF collection system.
Bob Gedert: Invest in recycling infrastructure development for lithium ion batteries. As we invest in electric vehicles, we need to develop a battery system that doesn’t catch fires at the MRFs, and can be recyclable, and can support the electric industry. My favorites that I want to highlight is require infrastructure use of recycled content products through the federal agencies, and through private agencies as well, too, to support and require that all federally funded infrastructure projects use these recycled and compost products on all the federally funded infrastructure projects across the nation. That would be a huge support for our recycling infrastructure, if every single infrastructure project across the nation used reused, or recycled, or compost products.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thank you, Bob. We’ll continue talking about the campaign and the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan after a short break. Thanks for listening to the show. If you’re enjoying this conversation, I hope you consider heading over to ilsr.org/donate to help support us. Your donation makes this podcast possible, as well as all the work that we do here at ILSR. Again, you can visit isr.org/donate to make a contribution today. Any amount is sincerely appreciated, and while you’re on our website, you might want to check out the other shows in the ILSR podcast family. They cover everything from broadband, to local energy, to composting. With that, let’s head back to the show.
Jess Del Fiacco: I think, because this is the Building Local Power podcast, I do, I want to push on how this might affect the local level. What provisions in the plan are focused on the local level? So cities, counties, independent businesses. Could you talk about that?
Bob Gedert: Yeah. I’ve run some numbers, and $3 billion would be available through 10 infrastructure programs and the plan offering grants to local cities, counties, solid waste districts, and Native American tribes. And $875 million is offered through 10 infrastructure programs in the plan, offering grants to small businesses. $1 billion through a infrastructure program. In the plan for MRF businesses. MRFS could be large or small throughout the country. The intent of all these proposed infrastructure initiatives in the plan, as we wrote it, are to provide opportunities to all communities through the lens of justice, equity, diversion, and inclusion. However, those values are not written into legislation, but rather in rulemaking and grant application processes, which comes down the road. All of us need to be at the table when the rules of the grants are written, and so it’s very important that our audience, as well as our organizations, be involved. And after the infrastructure bills are passed, that we are at the table when those rules are written.
Neil Seldman: Bob, thank you for that last point, because the reality is that things can change very quickly when you write the rules. So we have to be on top of it. I have a couple of other points, actually questions. Do you foresee this money flowing directly to cities and counties, and towns, or do you see this going through state agencies, which are responsible for solid waste management?
Bob Gedert: That’s a good question. And we’re initially writing it to include local communities. And as I’d wish to be involved, that this legislation passes the buck to the EPA, or the Department of Energy, or one of the federal agencies. So if we can get these initiatives pass through Congress, Congress assigns it to a federal agency to develop rules, to develop the grant programs. The grant programs are then developed internally at a federal agency, and they develop those assignments of where the grants will be delivered to. Generally speaking, they have their habits from past practices, and what we need to be at that table to talk to them about local communities. And local communities are not state level. They’re more local. And we need to be more inclusive, not just at the city level, but at the Native American tribe level, as well as even more local, at the non-profit, grassroots level as well. And we need to be more inclusive. And that conversation needs to be at that time, when the application rules are being developed.
Neil Seldman: Very helpful and all the more reason why people like you and Gary have to be at the table. One last point, I want to make, not a question, but as I anticipate, as you’re rolling this out, that when the money flows to cities, counties, towns, or Native American agencies, et cetera, the locals will be making decisions on their infrastructure. As you know, some forms of EPR take that decision making authority and remove it to the stewardship organizations, the corporations. So I wanted to emphasize the continued tradition of local decision making, as the money flows through either directly from federal agencies, or through the state agencies. And I also, I’m assuming that if the money goes to a state agency, there would be administrative fees that are covered so the states don’t have the burden of handling money without administrative support.
Bob Gedert: Absolutely agree there. Gary has a point there, I think.
Gary Liss: Yeah. I just wanted to interject that the main EPR bill is a good example of essentially a compromise, in which it was the municipalities that have been struggling since the China National Sword policies were adopted that have made it much more difficult for marketing materials, and increasing costs for recycling programs. That it was those municipalities that wanted to continue their recycling programs, but couldn’t fund it that led to Maine adopting an EPR bill that will charge the industry that sells products into the state, charge them a fee that will then help fund the municipal recycling programs. And this infusion of infrastructure funds could have the same impact, in terms of making available funding for the needs of municipalities at the local level. So they’ll be able to continue and hopefully expand their waste reduction, reuse/recycling, and composting programs.
Gary Liss: And most of the composting interest around the country is huge, but many places don’t have composting facilities. So the infusion of this type of funding could contribute significantly to enabling a lot more communities to move forward, and to move forward with innovative ways like community based composting, like the Institute for Local Self Reliance has been advocating for as a key component. So that there’s all different sizes and scopes of composting and recycling opportunities, that will hopefully come out of these types of investments.
Neil Seldman: Thank you, Gary, just to point out that the type of EPR that Maine has passed, the first in the nation, is called EPR Reimbursement, because the fees are reimbursed to the cities, as opposed to some EPR systems where the money stays with the industry, and they conduct the recycling activity. I also want to point out that the infrastructure for small towns and rural areas on compost, and it’s critical, because all over the country, if you produce good compost, there’s a market for it year round. So this is a real boost to the communities to divert maybe one-third or up to 40% of their waste. And it also creates jobs, small businesses, landscaping businesses, et cetera. So infrastructure money on composting is critical. Thank you, Gary, for adding that.
Jess Del Fiacco: I just wanted to go off that point. So this could be a question for any or all of you, and ask about small businesses and nonprofits that are currently involved in reuse and recycling, or composting, and what barriers they’re facing now, and what policies might come out of this plan to change things for them. If there’s any examples that you could share?
Neil Seldman: I could start by talking to, or talking about, a project that my colleague Brenda Platt in our compost initiative… She has been working for several years with the Baltimore Compost Collective, and they’re moving along. It’s a small business, young people are involved, it’s a very charismatic leader, but they are restricted from expanding their collections and processing of compost, even though they could sell everything or use everything, because a lot of their compost just goes to community gardens. And they need a truck…I don’t have to describe what you need for a composting business. So they’re alive, they’re working, and they can do better and expand much more with an injection of capital. So that would be one small example of an inner city program, and I’m sure that would be… if the capital were available… it would be replicated throughout the country in small towns and rural areas.
Bob Gedert: I would add that many of the initiatives in the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan that focus on waste reduction and reuse grants are specifically focused on small businesses. The large businesses totally ignore waste reduction and reuse opportunities. They’re very focused on large city recycling opportunities. So the waste reduction and reuse grant opportunities are very much open to the small business community, and an example of one of the initiatives is establishing reuse warehouses and reuse centers throughout the country, with a $250 million annual investment.
Neil Seldman: You reminded me of, for instance, there’s a wonderful model in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where money is being invested to help get reusables out of households into the warehouse system, and of course the distribution system, ultimately.
Gary Liss: The key point to that is in terms of job creation, the investing in reuse creates upwards of 250 times more jobs than landfilling or burning that same material. Those are statistics, research by the Institute for Local Self Reliance. And that’s why there’s that emphasis in the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan, not only on recycling, but also on waste reduction, designing things out, getting it right from the beginning. Changing the systems, and setting up reuse systems, and building on, I call it the hidden investment in the reuse industry, because it’s hidden because most local governments don’t pay a lot of attention to it, because they don’t see it as diverting that many tons of materials. And reusables are typically two to 6% of the total amount of materials discarded in any given community.
Gary Liss: But zero waste is all about not only diverting tons, but reinvesting those resources in the community. And the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan is based on that idea, that we should not only invest in recycling and composting, but also in those other activities upstream, to redesign the systems and to set up reuse programs and reuse facilities, and help with innovations like fix it clinics, and repair fairs, and other new reuse systems for reusable food ware that are being pioneered all over the country, just in the last year or two. So that’s what we’re envisioning some of that funding to go into, putting more of an investment so we’re not just investing in diversion from landfills and incinerators. We’re investing and reinvesting those resources in the local economy.
Neil Seldman: I just want to add to that great statement, just a couple of things. Reuse stores pay sales tax. Recycling projects don’t. Urban Ore, which is a reuse organization at Berkeley, a reuse company, excuse me, they’re paying a quarter of a million dollars this year in sales tax. According to reuse Minnesota, the number of jobs is multiplying as Gary said. The Second Chance Baltimore has grown from 13 workers to over 200 workers in the last few years. And I hear from all the reuse people that I interview that sales are booming during COVID, doubling and tripling their gross revenues. And also Gary mentioned the companies. They’re such great names, The Bottle Underground, I can’t think… Oh, Conscious Container, the Reloop platform. And it’s very interesting because most of these new businesses, and there are dozens as Gary I’m sure could list more, just like the old days in the ’70s, most of these projects, enterprises, are run by women.
Neil Seldman: Started and run by women, just like the drop-off centers. So we’re really seeing a recurrence, in both composting and reuse, of the early enthusiasm that we had in early recycling. And finally, these are where the growth numbers are coming from with recycling. Composting is soaring, and reuse is soaring. So we’re really, if you will, filling out the whole panoply of strategies. Not just recycling, but the composting, reuse, and people are just so creative that we want money flowing to them because we need this creativity to get to zero waste.
Gary Liss: Unfortunately, the other thing that’s soaring is single use plastics, and the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan calls for eliminating oil depletion allowances, and other subsidies of the plastics industry embedded in federal policy and federal budget. And there’s many policies that need to be addressed. The American Recycling Infrastructure Plan didn’t try to address all of the different policies, but did look at those that would impact on infrastructure, and the differential of virgin versus recycled content being influenced by federal subsidies. And we recommended in the plan to eliminate a whole variety of federal subsidies, as one of the tools for funding that plan.
Gary Liss: There are a number of other funding mechanisms, Bob, you might want to highlight, also in the plan. But this is a plan, not just how to spend money, but it’s how to generate the cash needed to be implementing these types of projects. And even if this doesn’t go forward at the federal level, the ideas in this plan could be applied at the state level, and communities around the country could advocate for their state to adopt similar funding mechanisms as Bob’s about to describe in the plan.
Bob Gedert: And just piggyback on Gary’s statement there, eliminating federal subsidies, the plan states adopting a set of federal government source reduction and waste elimination policies is one initiative. Stop subsidizing plastic producers, particularly in federal purchasing policies. Stop all subsidies for chemical recycling, also known as advanced recycling and conversion technologies, and alternative technologies, and support policies to reduce waste. Eliminate federal subsidies to fossil fuel industries that fuel the climate crisis, and eliminate federal subsidies to mining, extracting, and manufacturing of products. So that’s what Gary was referencing there. And we also are proposing a funding mechanism to support many of these activities in our plan, adopting a national job, a green jobs fee on landfills and incinerators. Just a $20 a ton fee at all landfills and incinerators to generate revenue to support these initiatives. And fees on non-recyclable packaging or products that are toxic to the environment, or create needless waste. And then these fees would be a producer responsibility fee, that would be collected to pay for these infrastructure expenses as well, too.
Neil Seldman: I want to add a historical note to this.
Bob Gedert: Go ahead.
Neil Seldman: Way back, in the early ’70s, Nottingham, New Hampshire was one of the first communities to get involved in recycling. Small town, of course. And there was a gentleman, his last name was McDonald. He had a plan to reverse the subsidies to virgin extraction by giving credits to every town that was doing recycling the same equivalent extraction. Now that would be ideal, of course, just to let you know that the great minds have been thinking like this for 40, 50 years. So now it’s time to put them all into practice, to save recycling, improve jobs and climate, et cetera.
Gary Liss: But Neil, that is actually a model that’s being implemented in Berkeley, with a service fee, where the city of Berkeley is paying Urban Ore the same amount per ton as they’re paying to landfill materials that have to go to landfill. So that same idea is being implemented as a service fee in Berkeley, right, today.
Neil Seldman: Yes, very important. And just to let people know, Urban Ore has a contract to be literally at the transfer station where the trucks are dumping it, and then it’s getting put in the trailers. And they can pick out… they’re professionally trained, of course… reusable, recyclable materials, and they’re getting, I believe about a hundred tons a week. And that’s what they’re getting paid for. They get $47 and change, which is exactly what the city would have to pay to tip it. But actually Urban Ore is saving them money because there’s no transportation to the landfill. Because Urban Ore is literally taking it and bringing it into their warehouse for processing and marketing. So thank you, Gary. The Berkeley service fee is a very important precedent.
Jess Del Fiacco: Thanks to all of you, this is… I feel like we had a lot of information crammed into the last five minutes or so. And unfortunately we are getting towards the end of our time, so we can’t keep digging into it. But I did want to ask, just to wrap up, how do you see the timeline for ARIP going forward? And then how can folks get involved, either with the plan itself, or with the Recycling is Infrastructure Too campaign, and how can they bring these ideas to their communities? So I guess I’ll throw it to Gary to start.
Gary Liss: On September 28th, we’ll be having at 2:00 PM Eastern, another webinar, one of our monthly webinars, updating on what’s in the proposed infrastructure bills. And we’re inviting the lobbyists I mentioned earlier that we’ve been collaborating with, to highlight their understanding of what’s in. Then at the National Recycling Congress on November 3rd and 4th, we’ll be having a number of sessions on the Recycling is Infrastructure Too campaign. You can find out more about that National Recycling Congress at nrcrecycles.org. To connect with the Recycling is Infrastructure Too campaign, we’ve set up a Google group, a little old school for some of you, but works for a lot of us. And the Google group is recyclinginfrastructure@googlegroups.com.
Gary Liss: And that would be a good place to get resources in the future. We hope to develop a website, but we don’t have a particular location yet for all the materials. But if you sign on with the Google group, we also have a link for getting campaign notices, to be a supporter of the plan, a supporter of the original letter to the president and Vice President Harris on the needs for pursuing this approach. So those are some of the best ways to connect. And Bob, for the American Recycling Infrastructure Plan, do we have a link that we can share with folks on that?
Bob Gedert: We do.
Jess Del Fiacco: If you go to ilsr.org, you’ll find all these links there.
Neil Seldman: I have a very appropriate way of ending this interview, and that is by using the phrase that Gary has made famous. If you’re not for zero waste, how much waste are you for? It’s a great question, and Gary’s been asking it quietly, as well as loudly, for many years. And Gary and Bob, it’s been a pleasure having this discussion. Of course, we’re going to keep this going on many, many different forums and venues. And just thank you so much for giving us this time as part of our Building Local Power programs.
Bob Gedert: Thank you for this great conversation.
Jess Del Fiacco: All right, thank you very much. Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. You can find links to what we discussed today by going to ilsr.org, and clicking on the show page for this episode. That’s ilsr.org. While you’re there, you can sign up for one of our many newsletters, and connect with us on social media. We hope you’ll also take the opportunity to help us out with a gift that helps produce this very podcast, and supports the research and resources we make available for free on our website. Finally, we ask that you let us know how we’re doing with a rating or review on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. The show is produced by me, Jess Del Fiacco, and edited by Drew Birschbach. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL. We’re the Institute for Local Self Reliance, I’m Jess Del Fiacco, and I hope you’ll join us again in two weeks, for the next episode of Building Local Power.

 

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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: iStock

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Jess Del Fiacco

Jess Del Fiacco is ILSR’s Communications Manager. In this role, she works closely with program staff to develop and implement communications strategy that supports ILSR’s mission. She promotes ILSR’s work through the organization’s newsletters, website, social media, events, and more. Jess also hosts the Building Local Power podcast. Contact Jess for media inquiries.