Wastepaper Recycling:

Programs of Civil Agencies Waned During the 1980s

GGD-90-3: Published: Dec 15, 1989. Publicly Released: Jan 16, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined various aspects of federal agencies' wastepaper recycling activities, focusing on: (1) the extent to which agencies implemented a legislative mandate to encourage wastepaper recovery and establish recycling programs; (2) the causes of agencies' shortcomings in implementing those responsibilities; and (3) obstacles to expanding federal recycling efforts.

GAO found that: (1) most federal agencies did not have wastepaper recovery programs and had not conducted the required analyses to justify the absence of such programs; (2) most General Services Administration (GSA) regional offices were trashing wastepaper rather than selling it for recycling purposes; (3) the governmentwide wastepaper recycling program that GSA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated in response to the legislative mandate was adversely affected by budget cuts, lack of aggressive management and monitoring, poor contract administration, and employee apathy; (4) EPA did not issue guidelines for the procurement of recycled paper until a lawsuit forced the issuance of the guidelines; (5) although the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) was required to report biennially to Congress on agencies' progress in implementing guidelines, it had only submitted two such reports since 1981; and (6) obstacles to agencies' establishment, maintenance, and expansion of recycling programs included the widespread perception that such programs were not cost-effective, lack of adequate storage space to hold accumulated wastepaper, and program costs.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress is currently considering three bills which contain provisions that would allow agencies to keep the proceeds from the sale of their wastepaper to offset the cost of recycling. Congress included a provision in GSA appropriation legislation which allows agencies during fiscal year 1992 to use income from energy rebates or materials recycling sales for federal energy management programs.

    Matter: Congress may contribute to an increase in recycling in federal facilities by alleviating the cost burden of those programs. An appropriate step Congress could take would be to ensure that agencies involved in recycling efforts are able to receive the income from the sale of their wastepaper for future use in their recycling programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has updated its wastepaper recycling implementation manual for federal agencies. During the fall of 1991, EPA plans to: (1) issue a detailed training and reference manual for agency recycling coordinators; and (2) hold a governmentwide recycling conference for federal executives. However, EPA has no plans to identify agencies having the greatest potential for successful programs.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should assist agencies in determining whether separation of wastepaper is a viable action for their operations. This should include: (1) identifying those agencies located in areas of the country having the greatest potential for successful programs; and (2) providing better guidance to help those agencies determine the amount of high-grade wastepaper they can produce, the existence of a market for the paper, the state and local requirements for paper separation that exist, and costs of alternative trash disposal.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA noted that its guidelines and related materials adequately define unreasonably high costs. EPA sees no need for additional clarification. GAO believes the recommendation is still valid because EPA guidance does not address how agencies should handle the indirect and intangible benefits of recycling when determining whether the cost to recycle is unreasonably high.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should define the term unreasonably high cost, balancing the additional cost to the government against disposal fees and the environmental benefits of recycling the paper, such as conservation of landfill space and natural resources.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has sent a letter to OFPP identifying EPA willingness to work with OFPP in preparing the 1990-1991 report to Congress. Similarly, EPA has met with OFPP to discuss the joint development of: (1) guidance to the agencies on what they should report on their purchase of goods containing recovered materials; and (2) a questionnaire for accurately collecting this information from the agencies.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should work closely with and assist OFPP in preparing the biennial report to Congress on the progress agencies are making in implementing the guideline for the procurement of recycled paper.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA identified the wastepaper volumes generated by each region; established a recycling policy that, where possible, federal buildings will have a recycling program; issued new wastepaper sale contract requirements and guidelines to the regions; provided instructions on how to update and improve the administration of wastepaper sales contracts; and corrected wastepaper billing problems.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of General Services should take steps to strengthen controls over the process of awarding and administering wastepaper sales contracts to optimize proceeds and thereby encourage agencies to increase participation in wastepaper recycling.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration


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