Recycling Must Be Included in the Infrastructure Bill
By Keefe Harrison
As Congress and the Trump administration contemplate a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, the question of how to utilize those dollars looms large. If the focus is just asphalt and concrete, it will miss the heart of American manufacturing. At the top of manufacturers' needs is access to good, consistent, high-quality feedstocks to make into new products. Let's help meet that need with some of the best possible domestic sources of raw materials: the paper, plastics, glass, metals and packaging discarded by U.S. homes and businesses. That means including funding for improved recycling in the infrastructure bill as a way to ensure long-term reliable supply created right here at home.
Modern infrastructure means resilient cities that make decisions based on long-term thinking. Yes, we need roads and bridges, but are we just interested in rebuilding the infrastructure of today? We need to think of the infrastructure of the future, the kind of infrastructure that ensures America's competitive edge and that supports a forward-thinking circular economy that serves the environment as well as the bottom line.
We cannot thrive as a country if we don't connect environmental health and infrastructure. That's where recycling comes in. When it comes to manufacturing goods, we have two choices: take materials from the earth or keep them in cycle. Keeping them in the cycle saves an enormous amount of energy and keeps us from creating more methane-spewing landfills. More than 150 million Americans "vote" for keeping materials in the cycle by putting out their recycling bin every week. As materials move through that cycle, they create jobs every single step of the way.
To manufacturers, keeping the materials in the cycle is increasingly critical. Here's an example. The Coca-Cola Consolidated bottling plant in Greensboro, N.C. produces beverages in plastic bottles that are sold across the region. Many of those soda bottles are collected by local recycling programs and delivered to nearby Material Recovery Facilities where they're sorted from other recyclables, baled, and shipped to a recycler. Unifi, a long standing and fast-growing North Carolina textiles company, buys some of those bales and spins them into yarn called Repreve. This popular yarn is woven into lots of products made by other U.S. manufacturers from upholstery to swimsuits. Plastic bottles going into products Americans use every day is a local, regional and national success story. It means, among other things, a more competitive U.S. textile industry and factory jobs kept on-shore. Better recycling is all we need to create even more jobs and to revitalize more U.S. companies.
But we have some work to do. While recycling feels universal, only half of Americans can recycle at home. And of those that do recycle, many only recycle half of what they could. That means we're missing out on 22 million tons of recyclables that could be delivering powerful economic and environmental impacts. If recovered, our estimates based on tonnage and current market values show that those recyclables would annually deliver $1.8 billion to our economy and reduce pollution equivalent to removing 10.5 million cars off the road, every year. And that's where infrastructure funding becomes critical.
Congressmen and women have a golden opportunity to help their hometowns and their districts with funding for recycling in the federal infrastructure bill. These dollars could help communities provide universal recycling access to their households through the procurement of recycling carts, trucks and other equipment (all of which is also made in America). Further, Congress should use this infrastructure bill to move the country toward a more circular economy, one in which manufacturers design and produce products with the intent of reusing materials again in the future. Do you know who is already taking these kinds of bold moves forward? China. And who will be our greatest economic competitor in the decades to come? China.
Businesses can be—and want to be—part of the solution. This administration can champion American corporations as they work with government, cities and towns, and nonprofits to rebuild the nation's infrastructure. Today, there are 30 major corporations—The Recycling Partnership's corporate funders—that collectively have leveraged more than $27 million to improve recycling in more than 500 cities and towns across the nation. These companies know that improving recycling is to their economic advantage and that participating in recycling helps them reach their corporate sustainability goals.
It is time the federal government takes as much responsibility for recycling as our cities and towns do. Recycling is the best way for the government to join the private sector in building strong manufacturing and in working toward infrastructure—economic and environmental goals that are good for people, the planet and profits.
Keefe Harrison is the chief executive officer of The Recycling Partnership.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that would ban the sale of new cars in California that run only on gasoline by the year 2035. The bid to reduce emissions and combat the climate crisis would make California the first state to ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines, according to POLITICO.
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A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.
More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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