Recycling market development bill headed for governor’s signature in Maryland

February 17, 2021

By: Megan Quinn

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Dive Brief:

  • A bill to create a state recycling market development program in Maryland has been approved in both the state House and Senate and is headed to Gov. Larry Hogan for final approval.
  • The bill, SB116, and its House version, HB164, would require the state’s Office of Recycling to “promote the development of markets for recycled materials and recycled products” through efforts such as encouraging businesses and state government to use more recycled products and helping connect recycled materials, especially hard-to-recycle ones, with suitable end markets.
  • The twin bills, sponsored by Delegates Dana Stein and Brooke Lierman in the House and Senators Cheryl Kagan, Chris West and Katie Fry Hester in the Senate, have moved quickly through the Maryland General Assembly due to bipartisan support and a variety of recycling industry backers.

Dive Insight:

Maryland is among several states taking steps to strengthen its local recycling markets, a movement that has gained steam in recent years in response to disruptions from China’s recyclable scrap import bans and tightened contamination standards.

“These markets have dried up because of a significant drop in overseas demand for recyclables,” Stein said during a committee hearing in January.

The bill directs Maryland’s recycling office, part of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), to make recommendations on how to improve markets for recycled materials and products, including measures for reducing contamination. The recycling office would also be tasked with looking for opportunities to bolster recycled material use within the state and encourage

state agencies and others to use products with recycled content. It would further be responsible for keeping track of “recyclable materials that are in need of recycling assistance,” according to the bill.

The office would also monitor Maryland’s existing recycling markets and provide resources that could help match recyclable materials with end markets or help reopen businesses that would benefit from using recycled materials. Furthermore, MDE would reach out to businesses and promote a “Maryland is open for recycling business” campaign to coordinate market development activities. 

MDE would additionally be responsible for looking at the state’s current funding mechanisms for recycling market development and determining whether additional funding mechanisms might be necessary.

Tyler Abbott, MDE’s director of legislative and intergovernmental relations, said local governments and private recyclers were hurt by cost increases after China announced its import ban in 2017. “Strong markets ensure that there is a reliable, sustainable source of funding to offset these costs and keep recycling programs running,” Abbott said in a letter to the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

The Maryland Recycling Network (MRN) is among the supporters of the bill, saying it centers market development as a key aspect of improving the state’s recycling systems.

“Collecting more materials alone will not move the needle on recycling rates; there also needs to be a demand or market-driven effort to expand the use of recyclables and manufacturing to build on Maryland’s successful ‘buy recycled’ efforts,” MRN stated in its testimony. 

Sarah Price, legislative and membership director of the Maryland Retailers Association, said the bill is also good for creating jobs and supporting businesses in the state. Her association urged the bill to support an “investment in recycling infrastructure as an alternative to banning single-use products,” in testimony to the Senate Education, Health and Environment committee.

Other supporters include the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council, the MD-DE-D.C. Beverage Association and the Maryland-Delaware Solid Waste Association, a chapter of the National Waste & Recycling Association.

The bill’s speedy movement through the House and Senate signals the state’s bipartisan support for creating market initiatives at the state level, said Abby Snyder, legislative and communications director for Sen. Kagan. The bill also had a head start this session because a previous version passed the House unanimously in 2020, but failed to move forward in the Senate after the

legislature adjourned early due to the coronavirus pandemic. This time, said Snyder, Governor Hogan is expected to sign the legislation into law after the bills go through final committee hearings.

Proponents of market development bills say private sector efforts or federal grants were once the more common avenues for improving U.S. domestic markets, but many see value in revitalizing state-led efforts to develop markets closer to home. 

Last summer, Colorado passed a law that directs the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment to create a plan for a new recycling market development center. In 2019, California passed a statewide market development bill, part of which led to a statewide commission that developed a recent report with market and recycling improvement recommendations.

That same year, the state of Washington passed the Sustainable Recycling Act to incentivize new companies to process recyclable materials and develop more local end markets, and New Jersey passed a law to establish a recycling market development council. 

Meanwhile, Texas and Michigan have also recently considered their own recycling market development bills, and New York has been working to boost recycling markets for several years.