Recycled Materials

Recycled Materials



NWRA supports incentivizing the development of the domestic market for recycled materials through the use of waivers, federal tax credits, grants from the Environmental Protection Agency for entrepreneurs and other voluntary methods. 


Recycling occurs constantly all around us. In the United States, the collection and processing of recyclable waste into materials that can be used in the manufacture of new products is now a common practice and spreading around the world. Recycling turns the old into the new – today’s newspaper might return next month with new headlines while your aluminum soda can, which is made from the most recyclable of all materials, could have a second life as a new beverage container.

Material recovery facilities (MRFs) have a wide array of highly-specialized equipment designed to sort and separate different kinds of recyclables, turning them into raw materials for manufacturers. Most MRFs process several different grades of paper, glass bottles, aluminum, steel cans, and plastic containers.

China historically has imported massive quantities of waste materials from the United States to be recycled and used in their manufacture of new products. This has been a mutually beneficial relationship given that the U.S. market for consumer recyclables is not as strong.

However, as of March 1, 2018, China closed its doors to the import of many recyclables through new bans and changed standards. Given the amount of recyclable materials shipped to China, there currently is not enough worldwide capacity to absorb the materials that do not meet these new specifications.

This coincides, though, with a resurgence of the U.S. manufacturing base and the looming large-scale investment in America’s infrastructure. These two events will increase the demand for raw materials that can be met in part through the use of recyclables.

Congress and federal regulatory agencies have an opportunity to implement policies that encourage use of recyclable materials where it makes economic sense to do so while avoiding the issuance of mandates. Tax credits, block grants, and regulatory relief encouraging the development of a domestic market for consumer recyclables as well as research and education can spur renewed demand for recyclable materials that will also encourage job creation in the United States. 

  • There currently is not enough worldwide capacity to absorb the materials that do not meet China’s new specifications for recyclables, which has already resulted in valuable commodities being stockpiled or, in some cases, landfilled.
  • The U.S. market for consumer recyclables has not been as strong but could be poised to turnaround due to a resurgence in domestic manufacturing and the pending large-scale investment in infrastructure.
  • The domestic market for recyclables needs to be incentivized to be ready for the coming demand to meet the needs of the manufacturing and infrastructure construction sectors.

Updated January 2019.