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| be Waste Wise | March 23, 2023

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Commercial Waste Recycling Policy in the United States

Featured Image - Recycling in North American Cities - Commercial Waste Recycling Policy in the United States

  • Question: What is the commercial waste recycling policy in the United States that is used to influence at the level of point-of-purchase?

    Anne Germain I’ll answer the first part of your question which talked a little bit about municipalities and what they can do to reduce waste. I think one of the most visible examples are our municipalities that have incorporated bag bans. I think state of California defeated it but LA (Los Angeles) just passed a bag ban. The ban would be on single-use bags at stores which literally are bags that you are just using to transport goods from the store to your home and then immediately they are disposed off. So, banning this kind of single-use a bags have been proliferating all around the United States.
    Kate Vasquez Seattle has a bag ban. In the DC (District of Columbia) area there are two bag taxes in place – Montgomery County, Maryland and Washington, DC. Washington, DC’s program has been ongoing for little while now and they’ve been pretty happy with it. It was framed as a water quality issue and not as a solid waste management issue but they’re having some success. It has not been a catastrophe as is sometimes forecast. There have been snags, but that program is ongoing and is a really good model to look at.

    Samantha MacBride Another question that Katrina was asking was about what we call commercial waste recycling and why that is treated differently from residential and public institution recycling in some but not all cities. I can speak to the experience of New York where we are at one extreme. We have one giant centralized public sector agency that’s serving eight million residents and thousands of public institutions and then we have an almost Wild West free-market of hundreds of different private carters that are competing to pick up commercial waste. What happens is that quite rationally these guys will collect corrugated cardboard and maybe bulk metal when the markets are good and and nothing else. This is what happens when you have a free-market situation.

    On the other extreme is San Francisco where you have one giant private service provider who is collecting all residential and all commercial waste. You have beautiful economies of scale, you’ve got the mandatory program. But even before the program was made mandatory it was very successful. So, if you can overcome political opposition
    on the part of the existing and commercial carters to moving to a more consolidated forms of collection, I think you can really improve waste management in New York city

    Brian Tippetts I have a question that I’d like to throw out to the panel. I’ve heard discussions in the past but have not heard of any municipality which has adopted a litter tax. A tax on those businesses that seem to increase a lot of litter, such as fast food litter. I heard it discussed that there would be surveys done periodically of the litter and the types of litter that seem to relate to certain industries that would relate to the type of tax they would have on the products they distribute. Like a hamburger wrapper tax. I don’t know that any municipality has passed a litter tax tailored towards commercial/retail. Does anyone know if that has worked anywhere?

    Kate Vasquez Virgina, not as a municipality but the state has something that is colloquially referred to as the litter tax. It is a decades old compromise that was struck to keep out a deposit bill. But, it is effectively on items that are frequently littered even though it was originally to be on items that would have been subject to a deposit bill. This is because the tax is now on producers and retailers of items in bottles consumed away from home, which are a large portion of the litter. In return, that money is used – was originally put just for litter control and litter cleanups – also partially used to fund recycling and many other recipients of that money. So, that is a connection between the retailer, the littered item and the litter itself, but again that’s at a state level and is coincidental since that was not the original intent.

    Anne Germain Delaware state does have a universal recycling law and although commercial entities and businesses are not included yet, starting in 2014, commercial businesses will also have to be provided with recycling services. So, the recycling law as mandated just requires all the haulers to provide recycling services at no additional cost but doesn’t actually mandate that the entity that receives the cart has to recycle. But, nonetheless it has increased recycling rates tremendously.






Book: Recycling Reconsidered: The Present Failure and Future Promise of Environmental Action in the United States (MIT Press Listing) (Review) (Buy)


  1. Planned obsolescence seems to be the underlying theme in modern American industry. Durable goods are designed to wear out more quickly than in the past. Maybe there should be more resources directed at lobbying for legislation that outlaws making products that are designed to fall apart, or at least recommendations to people to spend a little extra on chairs, cars, etc., known for durability.

    Paul |

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