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Think Zero LLC Waste Reduction and Diversion Policy Briefing

December 2020

First, we’re proud to share that Think Zero participated in the legislative process for the first time, as a founding member of the #SaveOurCompost coalition, which successfully fought to restore funding for community composting in NYC. We’re continuing to advocate for the community composting nonprofits Big Reuse and the Lower East Side Ecology Center to remain in their compost yards, rather than have to find new permanent locations. You can read more about the current situation here.

Although this was an extremely difficult year, and most of the legislation focused on COVID-19, we had some positive developments in NYC waste legislation:

  • New York State’s plastic bag ban started in March 2020, though it was not enforced at that time due to a lawsuit from Poly-Pak Industries. The court upheld the ban, and enforcement began on October 19, 2020.

  • New York’s Governor Cuomo signed a PFAS ban in food packaging. PFAS, sometimes used in pizza boxes and compostable packaging, are known as “forever chemicals” with documented negative impacts on human health.

  • NYC expanded its organics recycling (i.e. composting) requirements for commercial businesses. As of July 31, 2020, additional food service establishments (such as restaurants, delis, coffee shops, cafeterias), retail food stores, food preparation locations, catering establishments, and temporary public events must separate their food scraps for beneficial use. This is the third phase of the commercial organics requirements, building off of the 2016 and 2018 DSNY rules.

New Jersey also passed crucial pieces of waste legislation:

  • New Jersey’s Governor Murphy signed a law that bans single-use bags, both plastic and paper, as well as food containers and cups made of polystyrene foam (commonly known as Styrofoam). This law will go into effect in May 2022, and is the strongest bag ban in the country.

  • Governor Murphy signed a plastic straw upon request law, which will go into effect in November 2021.

  • Governor Murphy also signed a landmark environmental justice bill that recognizes “the disproportionate environmental and public health impacts of pollution on overburdened communities.” It states, “It is past time for the State to correct this historical injustice” and going forward will, “limit the future placement and expansion of such facilities [like incinerators] in overburdened communities.”

We applaud New Jersey’s lawmakers for signing these vital laws into effect, and applaud the many groups that pushed for their introduction and passage.

Colorado created a nearly $1 million fund to study end-market recycling businesses in the state, create policy and legislative recommendations regarding extended producer responsibility, and administer a state-wide recycling education campaign.

Bales of recyclables on a truck

Colorado, like New York, is now also regulating PFAS chemicals for the first time, specifically with regard to firefighting foam. Colorado communities have been pushing for this legislation for years, as their drinking water was contaminated with PFAS from firefighting foam.

We highlighted Colorado, New York, and New Jersey as this is where the majority of Think Zero’s clients are located, but there is also waste legislation being developed and passed in other states. We will flag this where appropriate for clients.

On a federal level, the EPA set a non-binding goal to increase the national recycling rate to 50% by 2030. To achieve this, it will focus on three areas:

  • Reduce contamination in recycling

  • Make recycling processing system more efficient

  • Strengthen the economic markets for recycled materials

As Waste Dive reported, based on the EPA’s latest waste data, as a country the US is recycling less--not more--in recent years. The national recycling rate was 35% in 2017, and fell to 32% in 2018, “dropping to the lowest level recorded since 2006.” Having goals is important, but must be backed up with legislation.

Waste Dive also reported that there has been a, “historic influx of recycling legislation in Congress,” although none of these bills have been signed into law yet. The bill Save Our Seas 2.0 was passed by both the House and Senate, and awaits President Trump’s signature. The bill includes a Genius Prize for Save Our Seas Innovations, amendments to the Marine Debris Act, and improving domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris by funding studies and grant programs.

Several environmental groups have criticized Save Our Seas 2.0 as being inadequate, and not focusing on the root issues of plastic pollution. According to Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, the law, “is so woefully inadequate to the scale of the crisis that it is really very little more than a distraction endorsed by the plastics industry to keep our attention away from the focusing on real solutions to the problem.”

As a reminder, if you live in NYC, the following new state and city waste regulations will go into effect over the next couple of years:

  • NY State: paint recycling program, starting November 1, 2021

  • NY State: donation of excess food and recycling of food scraps, starting January 1, 2022

  • NY State: ban on polystyrene / Styrofoam (NYC already banned Styrofoam, effective of January 2019)

  • NYC: commercial waste zones. The process has been delayed due to COVID-19, but is moving forward in 2021, with proposals from haulers du