A coalition of plastics and other industry groups wants Washington to play a bigger role in recycling.
As part of that effort, the coalition is pushing $500 million in new federal money to shore up local waste management against challenges like China's ban on scrap imports.
The effort, which includes the Plastics Industry Association and the American Chemistry Council, is broader than plastic, with associations for glass packaging and the waste and recycling industries also signing on.
And it's about more than money. The coalition wants to shift Washington's thinking around recycling — to recognize local waste collection systems as a type of infrastructure that should get financial support just like roads or airports. Members hope to introduce legislation in the next few weeks.
The industry proposal comes as both the Trump administration and Congress, including the new Democratic majority in the House, signal support for a large federal infrastructure program. That's seen as the most likely legislative vehicle for the industry proposal, although it's far from clear a big infrastructure program will pass.
Scott DeFife, vice president of government affairs at the Plastics Industry Association, said the coalition argues that much of the municipal recycling collection infrastructure is several decades old and faces new challenges it wasn't designed to handle.
He said with China and now other Asian nations banning scrap imports and forcing local governments to scale back the plastic materials they accept for recycling — and with the plastics industry facing growing public concern about waste and pollution — it's a good time for an expanded role for Washington.
"We think the country needs a system upgrade on recycling," DeFife said. "It could use a jolt of support. We think of our effort as a stimulus on recycling."
While the plastics association has been talking about this approach since last spring and working with allied groups, the coalition is only now putting specific funding figures behind it and zeroing in on legislative details.
The proposed dollar amount could change based on what the bill's Congressional sponsors want, but DeFife said the group is floating $500 million in federal matching funds over five years.
The idea is that local and state governments or private capital would have to kick in funding as well to get the grants, potentially unlocking $1 billion.
Dollars aside, DeFife said a major goal is to build support in Washington for the idea that recycling's environmental and economic benefits make it a public utility like electricity and drinking water.
"The primary issue is getting the federal government to think about recycling and waste management as a public utility that should deserve support within an infrastructure context, that is the primary thrust of what we're trying to do," DeFife said.