The EPA Answers Your Questions

U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson takes a break from work on the Gulf Coast to interview with a local news station. Photo: Flickr/usepagov

Earth911 recently had the opportunity to sit down with the U.S. EPA and get candid about reducing, reusing and recycling.

In order to address the most relevant issues pertaining to Americans right now, we came prepared with questions from our very own readers. Here’s what the EPA had to say in response.

1. “From a non-regulatory perspective, but as a wielder of a big hammer: How can they better promote cradle-to-cradle rather than cradle-to-grave thinking, planning, operations?” – Ross Grayson

In the fall of 2009, EPA issued a report encouraging the management of materials, products and services on a life-cycle basis. Life-cycle materials management encourages using or reusing resources most productively and sustainably throughout their life cycles, minimizing the amount of materials and toxic substances involved and all the associated environmental impacts.

The Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead report lays out a series of recommendations for EPA and states to help shift our society from waste to materials management in order to achieve a sustainable use of materials and live within the Earth’s capacity to provide.

Efficiencies gained in a life-cycle materials management approach result in reduced use of energy, water and materials, reduced toxicity of products and services, reduced volume and toxicity of waste, enhanced recovery of materials, and reduced impact on the land, air and water.

The public and private sectors have many of the tools that we need to manage materials much more carefully than we typically do today. By promoting efforts to manage materials, products, and services on a life-cycle basis, building our capacity to manage materials on a life-cycle basis in the future, and accelerating the public dialogue necessary to start a generation-long shift in how we manage materials and create a green, resilient and competitive economy.

2. “Does the EPA has ideas/plans on how to expand the availability of recycling around the country?” – Theresa Malin
EPA awards grants and other resources to states and local organizations to help set up and maintain recycling and other solid waste management programs. Generally speaking, these grants are awarded through EPA’s 10 regional offices.

3. “In these hard economic times, cost is a huge factor in government decisions. This plays a (negative) factor in recycling, since it tends to cost more. For example, Ocean City, Md. recently decided to STOP recycling altogether because it costs over a million dollars more to keep the program (for them, it cost $394 to recycle a ton, yet cost only $162 to throw away the same ton). Does the EPA address this already (and how so), and if not, how do they plan to counteract this?” – Theresa Malin

EPA does not control the fluctuation of prices of recycled materials. During hard economic times, many recycling programs will be adversely affected. EPA believes that there are many environmental benefits of recycling, and over time, the benefits outweigh the costs. EPA offers grants and other resources to state and local municipalities that may have recycling programs that are struggling during the economy.

4. “Can Public places, like parks, schools, churches, and so on, have a mandatory recycling bins , so when we go there we know what we have to do?” – Andry Cianci Fanucchi

This is determined by your state and local municipality; check to see where bins are provided and encourage them to implement stronger recycling programs.

5. “I get that whole plastic being a bad thing, but doesn’t the use of paper destroy multitudes of forests? Recycling is the key, isn’t it? Why not mandate recycling of plastics also?” – Joyce Frasier

What recycling collection is determined by state and local municipalities. There are recycling programs for plastic bags in some communities as well at many grocery stores. Choose to reduce first – a reusable bag can prevent waste from disposable bags in the first place.

6. “Will the EPA support a ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam?” – Hope Grable

EPA encourages the reducing and reusing of theses products. Ultimately, if these products are at the end of their useful life, they should be recycled. While not very common, Styrofoam can be recycled. Check your local municipality to see if they collect plastic bags and Styrofoam for recycling.

Editor’s Note: Search Earth911 to find a local recycling center for Styrofoam

Related articles
EPA Awards More Than $2 Million to Small Businesses
EPA Head: Environmental Protection is Good for Economic Growth
$10 Billion Allotted For EPA 2011 Budget

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  1. Hello Amanda,

    I like the question asked by Theresa especially since it brought out the fact that lack of state funds could be a problem for some recycling programs. Without maintaining the recycling programs, the whole recycling thinking takes many steps backwards. The only place left for it to go is in a landfill which is counterproductive.

    Thank you for conducting this interview. It brought out many important issues.

    Great article!

  2. I have recycled clean styrofoam for many years by bringing it to places like UPS stores, etc. They do a lot of packing, and have always been very glad to receive such things as ‘peanuts’ and all other forms of styrofoam that I have ended up with in boxes of all kinds. I just put it into my car, and when I am near one of those places doing other errands anyway, etc., I just drop it off. I have never had a problem doing this. I also refuse to take home food of any kind in a styrofoam container, and when I see a store / restaurant that still uses them, I ask to speak to the manager, and make a request that they stop using them and/or otherwise complain via a complaint card, for ex. in a restaurant. I have recently experienced a bakery-type of business that has stopped using styrofoam because they had rec’d. so many ‘suggestions’ such as mine. I never make it a ‘secret’ when I request such things, so that others can also hear what I am saying, so that perhaps they, too, will get the idea, if they haven’t already thought about it, or realize that ‘regular’ people can actually make a difference in that way in their everyday lives.. We do not have to just sit back and not say or do anything! We need to think and act on these issues in order for things to change!

  3. Firstly, thank you for keeping us informed. I continue to hope more and more American’s will work toward a sustainable future.

    I was truly hoping for a more progressive stance from the EPA. Responses seemed to me as if little -beyond additional grant money – has changed since the change of administration. Especially with responses like “This is determined by your state and local municipality”. Where’s the fight or the plea for a different path?

    This movement is really up to US. WE need to improve the environmental landscape locally. I’m disappointed by EPA’s responses.

  4. I am wondering if anyone has asked you about recycling gas canisters used for the barbeque grill. I have several empty canisters and I don’t know what to do with them. I haven’t able to find anything anywhere regarding their recycling, I’d hate to see these heavy metal canister go into the landfill.

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