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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Johnson, National Recycling Coalition Conference, Atlanta, GA

10/23/2006
Thanks, Kate (Krebs - NRC Executive Director). It’s a pleasure to be here.

I appreciate that you, and the National Recycling Coalition, invited me to help kick off the campaign to Re-brand Recycling.

At EPA, we believe that environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility. And one of the easiest ways for Americans to embrace their individual environmental responsibility is to recycle.

Like NRC, EPA wants to recreate the enthusiasm surrounding recycling we saw in years past and increase national recycling rates. While many American families and businesses are still in the habit of recycling, some people – especially the younger population who weren’t around during the rise in recycling back in the 1980’s, don’t seem as motivated.

NRC’s Re-brand Recycling campaign promises to raise awareness about the long-term environmental and economic value of recycling. As a supporter of this campaign, I’m pleased to join NRC and our food and beverage partners, to help restart the nation’s recycling engine.

Together, we will transform our throw-away culture into a recycling culture.
While there is certainly room for improvement, today I’m pleased to announce the results of EPA’s latest data on national recycling rates. And it’s good news.

Our Waste Characterization Report for 2005 shows that America recycled nearly one-third of its municipal solid waste. That’s 79 million tons of recycled material. … up 5 million tons from 2003, and 2 and a-half million tons from 2004.

I have to pause here, because when I speak to most audiences, their eyes sort of gloss-over when I get into statistics. But I’m guessing that folks, who came from across the country to participate in this conference, wouldn’t mind if I rattle off some recycling numbers.

So here it goes.

EPA’s report shows that containers and packaging made a particularly sharp jump in recycling rates – up to 40 percent in 2005.

62 percent of yard waste was composted last year – a nearly five-fold increase from 1990.

And 50 percent of paper waste – 42 million tons – was recycled in 2005. This alone, saved enough pine trees to stretch from Anchorage to Miami and back 3 times.

Our report is good news for your industry. It shows we already have a good base to launch the new Re-branding Recycling campaign – which will encourage individuals to accept their personal environmental responsibility, and help push the rates even higher.

And while individual actions are important, EPA is also proud to help businesses embrace their environmental responsibility to recycle.

When President Bush asked me to become Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said, “Steve, I want you to accelerate the pace of environmental protection, while maintaining our nation’s economic competitiveness.” And I’m pleased to report to him – and to all of you – we are doing just that.

At EPA, we have been working with our partners in industry to emphasize that doing what’s good for the environment can also be good for the bottom line. And few things prove that point more clearly than material recycling and reuse.

Throughout my 26-year career at EPA, I’ve met a number Chief Financial Officers for some of America’s largest businesses. And I can tell you, nothing gets them more excited than saving money – and one of the easiest ways to save money is by making smart energy choices.

As I’m sure you all know, it takes a quarter of the energy to make a new aluminum can from recycled ones, rather than from raw materials. And that’s just one example. As the global marketplace continues to expand, so will the demand for materials. By encouraging businesses to reuse resources and recover energy, EPA is helping transform our throw-away culture into a recycling culture.

The recycling data I just announced relates to municipal solid waste – but this is just the tip of the recycling iceberg. In terms of sheer volume, the recycling and reuse of industrial waste is where we can really get more bang for the buck.

I understand that the National Recycling Coalition and its new Industrial Resources Council are now working to expand into the fast-growing field of industrial materials management. And I applaud you for doing so.

I see industrial materials management evolving along a similar track as energy efficiency did 10 or 15 years ago. A decade ago, energy use was seen as just another cost of doing business – and if you wanted your business to grow, you had to expend more energy. Today, forward-thinking companies view their power use not as a cost, but as an opportunity to invest in energy efficiency and improve their bottom lines.

By encouraging businesses to embrace their environmental responsibility to recycle, the same thing is happening with smart materials management. Today, companies are seeking ways to reduce material inputs – or recycle and reuse old waste streams – to improve profitability. You remember those CFO’s I told you about who are engrossed with saving money? Well, they love this stuff.

At EPA, we’re proud to support the growing private sector interest in managing materials more efficiently through our Resource Conservation Challenge – or RCC. Through this program, EPA is working to increase the recycling and reuse of industrial wastes like coal combustion products, foundry sands, and construction and demolition debris. And we’re starting to see some impressive results.

In 2001, we set up the Coal Combustion Products Partnership to support the beneficial reuse of products like fly ash. At that time, about 32 percent of coal combustion products were recycled nationally. But in just three years – and through the hard work of a lot of our partners in the private sector, at trade associations, and at the federal and state levels – the coal combustion recycling rate is up to 40 percent. I want to welcome the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture who has recently become a new partner in this program. Through their help and the help of all of our partners, we anticipate that by 2011, half of all coal combustion byproducts generated in this country will be reused.

Since EPA’s RCC and NRC’s new Industrial Resources Council share many of the same goals, I expect we’ll find many more opportunities to work together. For example, one waste stream we could focus on is construction and demolition debris.

At EPA we’ve made construction and demolition debris a priority of the RCC. And our goals are simple:
  • Characterize and measure the construction and demolition debris waste stream;
  • Promote research and development on the best ways to reduce and recover this debris;
  • Foster markets for construction materials and other products that could be recycled from the debris; and,
  • Incorporate recycled debris into broader “green building” programs.

By helping the building industry make smart decisions about the reuse resources and the recovery of energy, EPA is making sure our construction and demolition garbage won’t go to waste. And green building is a big part of this effort.

For over 35 years, EPA has been greening our nation’s natural environment. By encouraging advances in building design and innovation, the Agency is meeting President Bush’s call to green our nation’s built environment.

I, myself, am proof that building green makes sense for our environment and our wallets. You see, over the years, I have served as the general contractor for several of our family homes. And for every one, I considered the impact they would have on the surrounding land and their use of water and energy. Our current home won an award for energy efficiency, saving us hundreds of dollars a year on power costs.

As you are well aware, buildings can have a significant impact on our natural environment, our resources and our wallets. In the U.S., buildings alone account for 39-percent of the total energy use and 12-percent of the total water consumption. However, with some forethought and planning, we can reduce these environmental and economic costs. Thankfully, more and more businesses and construction companies are discovering the financial benefits of building green.

Just last month, EPA signed a memorandum of understanding with the developer of a huge shopping mall in upstate New York. In doing so, the developer committed to include green features in the building’s design and operations. The mall is being built to achieve top energy and water efficiency – all to reduce the mall’s environmental footprint. The developer is also using recycled industrial materials for construction, and integrating a recycling and reuse strategy for the building’s operation.

This mall is just one example of the energy and environmental savings from green building. Imagine what our national recycling data would look like if this kind of green building became the norm in this country.

While it’s hard to say today how popular the idea of green building will become … but if sports are a powerful metaphor for social behavior, the signs are good. Just three weeks ago, the Nationals baseball team announced that their new stadium being built in Washington D.C., will meet the highest green building standards.

As we meet here today in the last quarter of 2006, the future of recycling and reuse in the United States looks bright. Municipal solid waste recycling is continuing to grow … and some of the credit needs to go to local projects, like Atlanta Recycles. Through the leadership of Mayor Shirley Franklin, government agencies are working together with businesses and non-profit organizations to promote profitable recycling here in Atlanta.

Through the work of all our partners on the federal, state, local and private levels, we are turning our throw-away culture into a recycling culture. At EPA, we look forward to a future where material and energy is used efficiently in every business, in every community, and every home. By encouraging the smart use of our resources, we will hand down a cleaner and stronger environment to the next generation of Americans.

Once again, I wish you success with your campaign to Re-brand Recycling. And I want to thank everyone here for your work to make environmental responsibility, everyone’s responsibility.

Thank you, and I hope you have a productive conference.