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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Recycling Programs in Congress: Legislative Development and Architect of the Capitol Administration

Jacob R. Straus
Analyst on the Congress

The House of Representatives and the Senate created separate voluntary recycling programs in 1989, during the 101st Congress (1989-1991). Administered by the Architect of the Capitol, the recycling programs aimed to reduce the amount of material sent to landfills and establish the House and the Senate as leaders of the recycling movement. 

The initial recycling programs in the House and Senate focused on the recycling of paper and the use of recycled paper, including white office paper, newspaper, and cardboard. While the program had modest beginnings, since 1992, when the General Services Administration (GSA) began managing the House and Senate recycling contracts, the House (13,190 tons) and the Senate (6,314 tons) have recycled a combined total of approximately 19,500 tons of paper. 

At approximately the same time the House and Senate began recycling paper, they also began recycling bottles and cans. Since 1992, when GSA began managing the recycling of non-paper materials, the House (656 tons) and the Senate (226 tons) have recycled a combined total of approximately 882 tons of bottles and cans. This number has fluctuated as the increased use of plastic instead of glass bottles has decreased the total weight of recycled bottles and cans. 

In 2001, the House and the Senate began recycling e-waste (e.g., computers, printers, and toner cartridges), construction, and demolition waste products (e.g., carpet, concrete, ceiling tiles, and scrap metal). The additional categories of recycling have allowed the House (27,000 tons) and the Senate (12,500 tons) to recycle almost 40,000 tons of total materials. Overall, the expansion of the recycling program in both the House and Senate has resulted in an increase of total tons recycled and a decrease in total tons of waste transferred to landfills. 

Recently, the recycling program has expanded to include the recycling of cell phones and the composting of food waste in the House of Representatives. In the FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, the Architect's statutory recycling authority was amended to create a new program for the collection and sale of recycled materials as surplus property and to establish a recycling revolving fund within the Architect's office. The language requires the Architect to use recycling proceeds to support environmental and energy related programs. 

For further analysis of recycling programs beyond those in the House and Senate, see CRS Report RS22807, Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs): Issues with Use and Disposal, by Linda Luther;


CRS Report RL34147, Managing Electronic Waste: An Analysis of State E-Waste Legislation, by Linda Luther; and


CRS Report RL31505,
Recycling Computers and Electronic Equipment: Legislative and Regulatory Approaches for "E-Waste"
, by James E. McCarthy.


Date of Report: March 12, 2010
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: RL34617
Price: $29.95

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