Washington — A coalition of plastics companies and trade groups is urging Congress to include up to $1 billion in recycling funding in future coronavirus legislation, saying that it fears recyclables collection could be hit hard by the pandemic.
The group, which includes major plastics trade associations and companies like Berry Global Group, Dow Inc. and LyondellBasell Industries, is telling Washington that more funding would help maintain critical supplies of materials, even as some cities and states cut back on collection and curtail enforcement of bottle deposit programs.
The group, including the Plastics Industry Association and the Association of Plastic Recyclers, want lawmakers to include a piece of legislation they helped introduce last year, the Recover Act, into any COVID-19 relief bills.
Congress is widely expected to consider at least two more rounds of coronavirus aid packages, including another large measure in early May.
"Many localities have reduced/eliminated recycling collection or suspended enforcement of bottle deposit laws, greatly reducing a much-needed manufacturing feedstock," the plastics group said in an April 16 letter to top House leaders in both parties. "This immediate investment would start to reverse the current trend of landfilling recyclable materials, which has only been exacerbated by this pandemic."
The coalition also includes the American Chemistry Council, the Flexible Packaging Association and Eastman Chemical Co., but neither the lobbying effort nor the Recover Act are solely focused on plastics.
Plastics groups are a large part of the coalition but it’s material neutral and includes those concerned with recycling of all materials, like the Solid Waste Association of North America, The Recycling Partnership and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. It also includes the Glass Packaging Institute.
It's the second recent push among industry groups over COVID-19 and recycling. A separate coalition has been raising concerns with state governments that cutbacks in enforcement around bottle bill programs, done to limit the spread of coronavirus, could inadvertently hurt recycling of PET, glass and aluminum containers.
A key driver for the business groups is having supplies available to meet commitments of large brand owning companies like Coca-Cola Co. and Unilever plc, which have pledged to use substantially more recycled content in their plastic packaging in the next five to 10 years.
Steve Alexander, president and CEO of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, said the push to include the Recover Act in COVID-19 legislation is not intended to replace longer-term discussions around recycling funding.
"While we understand — and support — why there would naturally be requests to deal with the recycling infrastructure impacts of the economic shutdown, the infrastructure needs facing recycling industries of all materials will continue to require significant attention and funding beyond the current funding sources related to COVID," Alexander said.
In its letter, the group noted, before the pandemic, industry estimated it would cost $9.8 billion to upgrade collection and processing infrastructure.
So the industry told leaders of the House, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, that it wanted to double the initial $500 million it sought last year in the Recover Act, to $1 billion.
The group said that collecting all of the recyclable materials available in U.S. homes would generate 370,000 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 20 million cars off U.S. roads.
The Recycling Partnership, which also signed the letter, is seeing interest in recycling in discussions in Washington, possibly in the next round of legislation, the so-called fourth phase, said Elizabeth Biser, vice president of external affairs for the Falls Church, Va.-based group.
"I know there's some renewed interest in this as conversations on infrastructure start to take off in the current crisis," she said. "With infrastructure being part of Phase 4, we're examining how recycling infrastructure could be a part of a federal stimulus package."
She told an APR webinar on April 15 that her group is concerned that coming out of the coronavirus crisis, cash-strapped local governments will have less money to fund recycling collection.
"We as a country are not making additional progress right now and quite frankly, we're at risk of backsliding as local government budgets are strained with tax revenues declining as a result of the crisis," Biser said.
Biser said that many people in the U.S. do not have full access to recycling at their homes, even as recyclables could serve as raw materials for in-demand products and packaging.
"Many of the products in short supply such as water bottles, toilet paper, and cardboard boxes use recycled materials," she said. "Businesses rely on curbside recycling as their largest source for recycled content."
Beyond the crisis, she said the partnership wants to look broadly at changes to the U.S. recycling system, including disposal fees to offset local government costs and "eco-modulated packaging fees" to help fund infrastructure and education.
Biser said a lot of the corporate commitments around using more recycled content "are coming due in 2025," even as recycling related legislation in Congress and state legislatures have been "put on the backburner" during the pandemic.
"But from our perspective, this is not the time to press the pause button," she said. "When we come to the other side of this crisis, the goals will still have to be met."