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Although recycling can generate environmental and economic benefits, the national recycling rate has increased only slightly since 2000, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While local governments have the primary role in operating recycling programs, EPA and the Department of Commerce (Commerce) have some legal responsibilities for encouraging recycling. GAO was asked to (1) identify key practices cities are using to increase recycling, (2) describe what EPA and Commerce are doing to encourage recycling, and (3) identify federal policy options that could help increase recycling. GAO interviewed recycling coordinators in 11 large cities about key practices and 13 additional recycling stakeholders about policy options. GAO selected both groups based on geographic representation and recycling expertise, among other factors.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency The Administrator, EPA, should establish performance measures and gather comprehensive performance data to evaluate the impact of EPA's recycling programs to ensure that the agency's available resources are utilized in the most effective and efficient manner.
Closed - Implemented
EPA has established a performance measure to evaluate the impact of its recycling programs--pounds of municipal solid waste reduced, reused or recycled. The measure will be reported under the Government Performance and Results Act at least through fiscal year 2011. In fiscal year 2011, EPA's Office of Resource Conservation and Recycling shifted its approach from waste management to sustainable materials management. Recycling is only one component of this new approach and as such there is no performance measure dedicated to recycling alone. However, EPA has developed a new performance measure-tons of materials and products offsetting use of virgin resources through sustainable material management. Results from EPA's sustainable material management strategies will feed into this new performance measure and will include results from recycling efforts.
Department of Commerce The Secretary of Commerce should develop and implement a strategy to stimulate the development of markets for recycled materials in the United States to fully meet its responsibilities under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act subtitle E.
Closed - Not Implemented
The Commerce Department has not developed and implemented a strategy to stimulate the development of markets for recycled materials in the United States.

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