It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the U.S. recycling industry is in a bad spot. This is due to a range of factors that include the quality of American recyclables, China, and the pandemic.

For years, China was a reliable recycling partner that accepted U.S. paper and plastics so it could make new products from them. It was an affordable option that kept everything moving along in the United States.

In 2018, however, China stopped taking most plastics and mixed paper recyclables, citing that they were soiled with hazardous waste. Then, the U.S. market of recycled single-use plastics shot up drastically once the COVID-19 pandemic got underway.

The result? Residents throughout the United States have been learning from their city or county waste management companies that the market for their recyclables has disappeared. These municipalities have been doing one of two things: either paying more for U.S.-based recyclers to take their paper, plastic, and metals or simply throw the recyclables away in the garbage.

In the latter case, the materials end up in landfills. At Newtech Recycling, we know the effects of e-waste on water and other areas of the environment. It’s too critical to ignore this problem. So, what is the solution here?

We’re covering one way this could go: following the example of New York, as reported in this story from The New York Times.

The New York Recycling Bill

Recent goings-on in the state of New York provide some guidance on what can be done. Two Democratic state lawmakers, Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, recently introduced a recycling bill that could serve as a model for the rest of the country.

The bill’s primary purpose is to make New York’s recycling programs profitable again, but not only that: the bill leaves open the possibility of creating more clean-energy jobs and even making the state’s garbage sorting more sophisticated.

If passed, the recycling bill would go a long way toward helping local recycling efforts throughout New York. The legislation would require big-time product manufacturers to pay for the costs of recycling their packaging; smaller manufacturers would not have to do this. The concept of putting the recycling onus on manufacturers rather than consumers is known as extended producer responsibility.

If the New York bill passes, municipalities across the state would start recouping the millions of dollars in tax money they have been paying for their own recycling. Another result would be the reining in of manufacturers’ current ability to do whatever they want regarding the recyclable nature of their product packaging. For instance, if certain kinds of labels are placed on otherwise recyclable bottles, the entire product becomes non-recyclable and therefore the responsibility of the consumer to throw out.

New York’s Kaminsky has also addressed the possibility of manufacturers exploiting their new recycling costs by simply passing the expenses on to consumers. He said the law can be structured in ways that prevent price gouging. Any increases in product prices due to such packaging requirements would be minimal, he claimed, since those costs would be diffused throughout entire industries.

Reactions to the Recycling Bill

The state of New York has ventured into extended producer responsibility before; state recycling laws have gone after paint, thermometers, and tech recycling, but these specific product types barely made a dent in the state’s recycling efforts. Conversely, the new recycling bill covers the more common recyclables of paper, plastic, glass, and metal, which together make up almost half of the state’s e-waste.

Extended producer responsibility is considered an effective way to address recycling and sustainability. Instead of punishing people and organizations for not recycling, it encourages green packaging as a choice: “Make recyclable packaging and save money.”

Some waste disposal managers in New York have hailed the state bill as a way forward for New Yorkers, both in terms of its consumer-friendliness and the environmental impacts it is expected to have.

New York is also setting an example for certain other states–including California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maine, and Oregon–that are now looking at recycling bills of their own. As initiatives such as this progress in the United States, even some opponents are getting onboard, since they at least want to have a say in how the process will work rather than simply be told later how things are.

When it comes to important matters such as network equipment recycling and any other efforts to keep dangerous materials out of the earth, it is really up to governments to make the big calls. Governor of New York Andrew M. Cuomo has not publicly commented on the extended producer responsibility bill yet, but the legislation remains in play for the spring.