sustainable materials management

A New Name, Same Important Mission

By Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator, Office of Land and Emergency Management

Over the last year, my staff and I have been working diligently to identify a new name for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER). We wanted a name that reflects the breadth and depth of our programmatic footprint in protecting human health and the environment. We asked for input from our personnel and key regional staff. After compiling and reviewing responses, I am pleased to share that the new name is the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) with the unchanged mission of restoring land, preventing releases, and conserving resources.

The evolution of the “waste office’s” work has resulted in an office that not only addresses waste issues but one that protects human health and the environment through diverse ways. These are some examples of our work and how we’ve grown:

  • We advance recycling and adopting a sustainable materials management approach. Sustainable materials management (SMM) represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. Partnerships with the public and private sector have helped EPA launch innovative recycling initiatives such as the Electronics Challenge, the Food Recovery Challenge, and the Federal Green Challenge. We’ve also gone global and are working with the world’s leading economic countries to advance SMM through the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency.
  • We invest in efforts that create sustainable community revitalization. For nearly two decades, we have been on the forefront of transforming communities. We have established critical relationships with local government leaders, local residents, community organizations, and local businesses to convert blighted properties into economic and social opportunities. Additionally, through programs like the Investing in Manufacturing Communities initiative, we are leveraging the financial and technical resources of federal agency partners to breathe new life into growing and thriving American neighborhoods in a way that’s environmentally and economically sustainable. Learn about land revitalizationbrownfields, using cleanups for alternative energy, and other cleanup programs such as SuperfundRCRA Corrective Action, and cleaning up underground storage tank releases.
  • We enhance the agency’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities to better ensure the safety of communities. Most recently, through Executive Order (EO) 13650 “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security”, we are strengthening the capacity of the emergency response community, enhancing coordination with federal partners, modernizing rules and regulation, and remaining in close dialogue with stakeholders involved in emergency management.

These are, of course, examples: there is so much more we are called to do. I want to reiterate that while our name has changed, our mission has not.

More information about the name change is on our website. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on twitter @EPALand to stay up to date on all the great work we’re doing! You can also learn more about our impact by viewing our interactive FY14 Accomplishments Report.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Recycling Saves Resources and Creates Green Jobs

By Mathy Stanislaus

Recycling is an important and significant aspect of a material’s lifecycle. It helps reduce the use of raw materials in the manufacturing sector and conserves resources like timber, water and minerals. Over the next 15 years, global demand for materials is predicted to rise more than 35 percent. This makes the efficient use of natural resources vital for economic development. In an effort to promote resource conservation across the globe, leaders from the world’s largest economies formed The Alliance for Resource Efficiency.

The Alliance is an international initiative dedicated to developing new strategies for environmental conservation in ways that promote sustainable management of our natural resources. In the United States, we call this sustainable materials management, or SMM. SMM encourages consumers, businesses and communities to consider the entire lifecycle of the materials we use – from extraction or harvest of materials and food (e.g., mining, forestry, and agriculture), to production and transport of goods, provision of services, reuse of materials, and, if necessary, disposal. Considering the full lifecycle of a product allows us to minimize environmental impacts as we use and manage material resources flowing through the economy.

In the last several decades, through improved materials management practices, we have successfully raised the national recycling rate to 34%, reducing 186 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually. That rate represents 87 million tons of material that were recycled or composted. Every 10,000 metric tons of recyclables generates 37 jobs, which equates to $1.1 million in wages and $330,000 in tax revenues . By working together consumers, businesses and communities can build on this success.

Consumers

Consider buying used clothing and building materials at reuse centers and consignment shops – they can be just as durable as a new product and save you money. Instead of discarding unwanted appliances, tools and electronics, try selling or donating them. This not only reduces waste, but it also benefits the community. What’s more, donating used items prevents goods from ending up in landfills and may create a tax benefit. Also, look for products with less packaging. The money manufacturers save by using less packaging is often passed down to you.

Businesses

Businesses can utilize lifecycle analysis to make better decisions during product design, such as using fewer toxics and more materials that have a longer, useful life. To help conserve resources, businesses can practice careful industrial and product design that minimizes the use of virgin materials and reuses them in an effort to reduce environmental impacts.

Companies can establish policies that support using and purchasing recycled products and materials. By expanding workplace recycling programs to include all types of paper, businesses can reduce paper waste. Installing built-in recycling centers and receptacles throughout buildings can encourage employees to rethink how they dispose of their wastes.

Communities

Communities can make efforts to encourage and collaborate with both businesses and consumers. This can help ensure that materials are used more efficiently and effectively. Government organizations can also begin to create awareness for the environmental consequences of our actions when using materials and purchasing products.

Local governments have a central role in increasing recycling in their communities, as they are responsible for implementing effective materials management strategies in their areas. They can do their part to make recycling a priority by ensuring residents are aware of regulation and policies that simplify recycling in their homes.

Ongoing Efforts

Next spring, we will host an event on sustainable supply chains with a focus on the automotive sector. The workshop will focus on identifying and sharing best practices and successes that are transferrable to other industries.

This event, and many other promising efforts to come, brings us closer to advancing SMM and combating climate change both domestically and internationally. I am proud and excited to be a part of a strategic initiative that will help the United States achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Advancing Sustainable Materials Management at the G7

By Mathy Stanislaus

Recently, I represented the United States at the kick-off event of the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency in Berlin, Germany. “The Alliance” is a result of this summer’s G7 Leaders agreement that sustainably produced renewable resources should be a key priority. In the United States, we call this sustainable materials management, or SMM. SMM uses life cycle analysis and systems thinking to reduce environmental and other impacts as we use and manage material resources flowing through the economy, from extraction or harvest of materials and food (e.g., mining, forestry, and agriculture), to production and transport of goods, provision of services, reuse of materials, and if necessary disposal.

The kick-off event for the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency was co-chaired by Germany’s Federal Ministries for Economic Affairs and Energy; and the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. The alliance was established to share best practices on how to use natural resources more efficiently, which will protect jobs, create new ones, and strengthen economies while protecting the environment. Earlier this year, the leaders of the G7 pointed out the importance of this work: “For every one percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP), raw material use has risen by 0.4 percent . . . much of raw material input in industrial economies is returned to the environment as waste with[in] one year. . . Unsustainable consumption of natural resources and concomitant environmental degradation translates to increased business risks through higher material costs, as well as supply uncertainties and disruptions.”

At the kick-off event, a number of corporations including General Motors, Toyota, Werner & Mertz and Tarkett shared their success in establishing systems to maximize the reuse and reengineering of materials that advances their bottom line. In addition to G7 countries and the EU Commission, a number of international organizations including World Economic Forum, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Bank, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), International Resources Panel, World Trade Organization and International Labor Organization, discussed the role of multilateral cooperation in fostering resource efficiency and areas for future cooperation. Academics and researchers such as Professor Marian Chertow from Yale University presented on research and innovation efforts to promote resource efficiency. The conversation focused on how best to establish a network of best practices that result in tangible, concrete outcomes.  There was a general view that the Alliance should prioritize activities, bring in business up front and effectively communicate both best practices and the rationale for advancing resources efficiency/SMM.  Many noted the importance of engaging countries beyond the G7 because of the global nature of material flows, including resources, manufacturing and products.

The conversation doesn’t end in Berlin. We continue to advance concrete actions to advance SMM both domestically and internationally, in partnership with businesses, states and local governments, NGOs and academia. Next spring, we will host a follow up G7 Alliance event on supply chains, with a focus on the auto sector.  Getting organizations to identify and address impacts across their value chain, in particular the supply chain, is critical for sustainability. However, the complexity of supply chains can make this challenging, including the flow of information within the supply chain. The auto sector is actively engaged in improving their operations, supply chain, and communities in which they operate. The workshop will focus on identifying and sharing best practices and successes in the auto sector that are transferrable to other sectors.

Leading up to the US event, the Alliance will hold workshops to identify and share best practices.  The UK October 29-30, 2015 workshop will focus on “industrial symbiosis” –an approach to directly match industry sectors and facilities to maximize the reuse of materials in manufacturing.  Under this practice the wastes or byproducts of one industrial facility becomes a resource for another facility. The US Business Council for Sustainable Development is working with companies, cities, communities and governments to advance this concept in the US.  After the event, a workshop will be held in Germany to discuss best practice examples of innovative bio-based products, value chains and resource efficiency in the building sector. They will assess the resulting opportunities, in particular for rural areas and discuss potential international cooperation on the topic.

Altogether, there are many promising efforts underway advancing and promoting resource efficiency and sustainable materials management. It’s exciting to be a part of and I was proud to represent the US in this effort. The challenge is to translate these efforts into concrete changes that achieve the promise of the economic, environmental and social benefits.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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The Charge for Our Current Generation

By Virginia Till

One thing folks don’t always know about us is that many of our programs are voluntary and proactive, and assist communities. While I do much of my work in the office, I relish opportunities to get out into the public and “put a face” to government.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Westerly Creek Elementary School in Denver, CO.

I was looking forward to interacting with kids about the 3 R’s: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” When I found out the students were ages 3-4, I was a bit intimidated since “Recycle Rita” had never done her Recycle Relay for a group this young. However, I decided I was up for the challenge and forged ahead.

Surprise, surprise, the kids already knew a lot about my topic. If you can believe it (and I’m sure the parents out there will), some kids even knew the word “landfill!” I was very impressed. After a bit of introduction, including a relay demo, we got started. The kids had a great time running back and forth and figuring out what was landfill, recycle, reuse, or compost. Some choices had more than one answer, which got their wheels turning, but they all enjoyed it.

This experience got me thinking about how current generations often pin their hopes on future generations. I hear talk about younger folks knowing more about the environment, and caring more about it, than we did in the past. We also talk about protecting the environment for future generations. I would propose that while it’s true many children might have an ever-increasing awareness of global issues and access to information, it’s current generations that are in still in a position to get things right.

There are many opportunities to adjust our current policies and processes to include more “systems thinking” and learn lessons from nature by focusing on long-term adaptability. Customizing our activities to community needs and addressing barriers to behavior change is also a great strategy. What are the most relevant health or environmental issues you experience in your community? How can you reduce the barriers to changing behavior?

While kids today might be more aware of the environment, we have many excellent opportunities to make our communities more resilient, now and into the future. If you get a chance to slow down this spring and take in the sights, I recommend it. And next time you chat with a 4-year old, ask her or him if they know what a landfill is or about the 3 R’s. You’re bound to be impressed!

Find resources for teaching and learning about the environment.

About the author: Virginia Till is an Environmental Protection Specialist for EPA’s Denver Office Environmental Stewardship Unit. Virginia works to reduce wasted food and educates others about waste diversion (source reduction, recycling, composting). Her alter ego, “Recycle Rita” often helps out in describing strategies for reducing waste in the first place.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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National Video Competition – “Our Planet, Our Stuff, Our Choice” – Closes With Over 200 Submissions!

The U.S. EPA asked for your ideas about how to better manage our stuff and you answered back with your passion, creativity, and many ideas on how to make a difference! U.S. EPA’s national video competition, “Our Planet, Our Stuff, Our Choice,” closed on February 16, 2010 with over 200 submissions. Thanks to all who entered!

Submissions were received from Florida to Alaska and most states in between. Contestants focused on raising awareness of the connection between the environment and the “stuff” people use, consume, recycle, and throw away. The medium was thirty to sixty second videos. Videos focused on both community and individual actions that can make a difference. There were serious entries and funny ones, too. Choosing the top twenty five and finally the prize winners will be tough for the review panel. First, second, and third place prizes will be awarded along with two student winners.

Visit our YouTube site to check out all the entries. Winners will be announced here in April 2010.

About the Author: Melissa Winters joined EPA’s Seattle office in 2007 where she works to reduce the climate impact of materials and their consumption.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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