A waste bin in front of the Felix G. Woodward Library on campus. With increased recycling incentives, we could see more recycling bins alongside them. File Photo by Trey Chrystak. | THE ALL STATE

As the state continues to fall behind in recycling, some Tennessee legislators have taken steps to ease the rising strain on state landfills. The Tennessee Waste Reduction and Recycling Act (Senate Bill 0573, House Bill 0550) was introduced Jan. 2023 by State Senator Heidi Campbell. A little over a year later, it has yet to complete its rounds in Congress. But if it does pass, what will it mean for us? 

1. More Recycling

For one, this bill aims to increase the amount Tennesseans recycle each year in a few ways. The first is a change in product packaging, with the bill designed to incentivize producers to redevelop how they package their products. 

Producers would be encouraged to to reduce the amount of packaging they use, to increase the percentage of recycled materials in their packaging and to increase the amount of their packaging that can be recycled. 

Furthermore, the bill would create a method to fund recycling initiatives. Hopefully, this money would be used to build and expand recycling centers, compensate producers for recycling and overall make recycling more accessible. Instead of expanding Tennessee landfills, recycling centers could take on some of the tons of the generated packaging waste.

One of the main focuses of the legislation is to promote a “circular economy” within the state. The intention is to extend the life of various goods by reusing and recycling them. This increases the life cycle of products instead of making them single-use.

2. More Jobs

With the creation of new recycling centers and the expansion of pre-existing ones come new jobs to staff them. Part of the bill specifically calls for funding to be invested in recycling jobs. Likely, this will be a slow expansion over the coming years. Other potential jobs could be found in innovating new packaging and advising producers.

3. Change In Packaging Composition

Another key part of the bill is the elimination of potentially harmful chemicals from packaging. The bill tasks the Department of Environment and Conservation to update a list of chemicals of high concern. 

Producers that use more of these chemicals would owe more in dues, thus discouraging them from including these chemicals in their products. Then, in 2028, it would become a violation of the legislation to sell or otherwise distribute products packaged in these chemicals. 

The goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of these chemicals in packaging materials throughout the state. Chemicals already on the list include lead, mercury, formaldehyde, and toluene. 

In addition, the incentives to use recyclable materials in packaging could have an effect as producers hunt for cheaper packaging alternatives. Ultimately, if the bill passes we’re likely to see small changes in packaging over the coming years.