Recycling in the United States

Reclamation and Recycling in Environmental Law

Processes used to recover usable materials from a waste stream. The need for resource conservation and waste reduction has grown sharply. Some communities have no more room for landfills. Raw products are being depleted, and cost of harvesting, developing, or mining natural resources rises as the availability of resources falls. Thus finding ways to recycle or reclaim materials instead of discarding them has become a national challenge.

Reclamation and recycling take many different forms, from merely separating waste into its components to using waste for energy. The benefits of recycling and reclamation are reduction in demand for both virgin resources and disposal facilities. Recycling of many materials, such as aluminum, paper, plastic, and glass, can be handled successfully on a local level. Some cities have made recycling mandatory, focusing on household waste, office waste, or a combination. Others find voluntary recycling sufficient to ease their waste problems.

Experience has shown that successful recycling programs must provide (1) easy entrance into the system, (2) facilities to do the recycling, and (3) a market for the recycled goods. Great strides have been made in all three areas: curbside collection of recyclable goods has been the most effective means of encouraging public participation; the number of recycling facilities has increased dramatically; and demand for recycled goods has grown so dramatically that many recycling facilities now have difficulty getting enough waste to recycle. In many places in the country the initial market for recycled goods was government agencies, which were required to purchase recycled materials. But now the public, too, demands recycled products.

Two laws contain provisions that encourage recycling: the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990. RCRA, which governs primarily the management of hazardous waste and underground storage tanks, recognizes recycling and reclamation of hazardous wastes as legitimate national goals. To further those goals, Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have taken steps to reduce the regulation of hazardous wastes destined for recycling or reclamation.

Two different approaches to encouraging recycling apply to hazardous wastes. For some materials, such as used oil, management practices are specified in lieu of the entire regulatory scheme for hazardous waste handling and disposal. When these materials are delivered to the collection site or transported in large amounts, though, normal manifesting and notification requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act apply. Other wastes, such as scrap metals (gold, silver, platinum, palladium, iridium, osmium, rhodium, ruthenium, or any combination) must be tracked and a record must be kept about the amount recycled. Lead acid batteries that are sent to recyclers to recover the lead are not subject to the manifesting requirements for the generator or transporter, but the reclamation facility is regulated.

The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 not only encourages resource recovery through recycling, but also emphasizes a new target: reducing the amount of waste produced from the beginning. This goal is called source reduction. Generators of hazardous waste are required to sign a statement documenting that they have a waste reduction program. Along with other forms filed to inform the community about the use and release of hazardous substances, some companies must file reports detailing the amount of waste disposed of in a year, amount recycled, reduction in waste amounts, and projections for the next two years. This information is publicly available.

The EPA is also part of the congressional scheme to emphasize recycling and reclamation. The Pollution Prevention Act mandates the establishment of a pollution clearinghouse, study of recycling methods, grants to states for programs, and reports to Congress. See also Emergency Planning and Community RightToKnow Act.
Based on “Environment and the Law. A Dictionary”.

Recycling in State Statute Topics

Introduction to Recycling (State statute topic)

The purpose of Recycling is to provide a broad appreciation of the Recycling legal topic. Select from the list of U.S. legal topics for information (other than Recycling).


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