The Future of Recycling Policy in the U.S.

After the COVID-19 pandemic stalled most legislative advances in 2020, 2021 has been a very busy year, particularly for state recycling legislation. The rise in activity can also be attributed to a growth in public concern and political pressure around certain high profile waste issues, together with international economic triggers, including trade decisions and fluctuating commodity markets.

As a result, lawmakers are focusing on a range of issues, from diverting organics from landfill, to chemical recycling and banning single use plastics and foam foodservice packaging.

The proposed legislation could dramatically change the way the U.S. handles recycling over the next few years, with the potential for vast improvements in infrastructure, together with advances in organics recycling, education, product bans, bottle bills and requirements for extended producer responsibility (EPR) initiatives.

State Recycling-Related Bills

We have summarized some of the most important recent recycling and waste legislation that has been passed, state by state:




Breakdown of the bill

Colorado HB 1162 Plastics ban Bans single-use plastic bags at most stores and EPS takeout containers at most restaurants.
Connecticut SB 928 Minimum recycled content Directs the department of Energy and Environmental Protection to create a plan to implement a minimum recycled content policy.
Click here to view the full chart of all waste and recycling legislation, state by state

Federal Recycling-Related Bills

Congress has also seen a historic influx of big bills in 2021, although these haven’t progressed at quite the same rate as they have at the state level.

In 2020, the only environmental bill to make it into law was the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act. The bill aims to reduce, remove and prevent plastic waste in the environment, especially waterways, through clean-up efforts and investments in plastic recycling infrastructure.

The following bills have been introduced to Congress this year:




Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act Calls for EPR programs for packaging and a nationwide 10-cent beverage container deposit program.

Aims to ban single-use plastic bags and expanded polystyrene foodservice containers, and discourage single-use plastic utensils and straws.

Mandatory post-consumer recycled content minimums would increase from 25% by 2025 to 80% in 2040.

Calls for more efforts to promote reusable and refillable containers, and to reduce microplastic pollution through pilot programs and other research.

Reintroduced March 25; referred to the Senate Committee on Finance


CLEAN Future Act Aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050.

Aims to bring greenhouse gas emissions down 50% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Calls for numerous waste and recycling efforts to achieve that goal, along with other energy, economic, infrastructure and job-related initiatives.

Would establish post-consumer recycled content standards for certain products, implement a national bottle deposit program and direct the EPA to standardize the labeling and collection of recyclables.

Would create a task force to establish an EPR system for certain products.

Directs the EPA to develop grants for zero-waste initiatives, recycling and waste reduction education, and composting or anaerobic digestion projects.

Introduced March 2; multiple committee hearings as recently as June 29


Click here to view the full chart of the progress of all federal waste and recycling legislation

National Recycling Strategy

The EPA has set a National Recycling Strategy to reach 50% national recycling by 2030. With nationwide recycling levels having stalled in the low 30 percent range for the past 20 years, this goal will require a significant leap in capacity and capability.

There are three objectives to the National Recycling Strategy:

  • Reduce contamination in recycling. This is reducing the percentage of wrong materials in the recycling stream, helping to ensure that clean recyclable materials such as paper and glass can be processed and made into new products. This will be achieved through public education and outreach. It will be measured by calculating the percentage of contaminants in recycled materials.
  • Make recycling processing systems more efficient. Improve our processing system by investing in new equipment upgrades and making curbside recycling accessible for more Americans. It will be measured by tracking the percentage of materials successfully recycled through a recycling facility compared to the materials that the facility receives.
  • Strengthen economic markets for recycled materials. This calls for a need to educate the public about the importance of buying recycled and increase demand through policies and incentives that focus on materials with less mature markets. They will measure this by tracking the average price of a ton of recycled materials (the commodity value) on the market.

NWA Tracks the Legislation That Affects Your Business

This shifting legislative landscape can leave businesses uncertain of their obligations across the breadth of their operations, making them vulnerable to the possibility of fines or penalties for non-compliance.

But when you partner with National Waste Associates (NWA), you don’t have to worry. We constantly track new laws and regulations across the United States, all the way from state level down to municipality. This way, we’re able to give you advanced notice of any legislative changes that will affect your businesses, so you have time to make the necessary changes. We then provide the operational support and expertise to ensure a smooth transition.

Our experts are already working with impacted sites to get them ready for the next rounds of legislation that will kick in throughout the year – and beyond.

When it comes to compliance, NWA’s got your back.

Want to understand how future legislation might affect your operations?
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