Recycling flourishes in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania, a leader in the implementation of state recycling
legislation, is not resting on its laurels and is preparing measures to enhance
recycling markets and expand the types of materials being diverted from the
Recycling not only helps the environment and reduces trash
hauling costs for municipalities ($267 million annually), but has led to
the creation of a strong recycling industry that has a solid foundation and
employs more than 81,000 people with an annual payroll of $2.9 billion.
To learn more about the Pennsylvania experience, American
Recycler recently interviewed Ken Reisinger, the director of the Bureau of
Waste Management for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Question: What steps is Pennsylvania taking to reduce the
amount of solid waste materials from being deposited into landfills?
Answer: First and foremost is the state’s emphasis on recycling. Since
the passage of Act 101 in 1988, recycling has greatly expanded throughout
A key feature of Act 101 was the creation of a Recycling
Fund to support the establishment of recycling programs across the state
and to assist municipalities with meeting their on-going responsibilities.
The fund provides grants that help local governments start their programs,
as well as grants that reward recycling performance.
Another important effort designed to minimize the amount
of solid waste disposed is the DEP’s development of permits that facilitate the beneficial
use of waste materials. To promote diversion of waste from landfills, the
Department has developed more than 100 general permits that allow the beneficial
use of waste for a wide range of uses including, construction, composting,
land application, and alternative fuels. Private industry played a key role
in this process.
Question: What are some of the innovative programs that
the state has introduced to divert solid waste materials to the recycling
Answer: The Recycling Markets Infrastructure Development
program awards grants of up to $500,000 for purchases of machinery or equipment
that will increase consumption of recyclable materials recovered in Pennsylvania.
The grants are made to businesses and nonprofit organizations that will manufacture
a product using recyclable materials.
The Compost Infrastructure Development Grant Program helps
for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations incorporate organic materials
into manufactured products. It also increases the amount of organic material
processed at composting facilities. The grants, which can go up to $100,000
for each project, are leveraged to attract additional investment from private
entities and community organizations.
The Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center, established
by the DEP in 2005 in partnership with Penn State University, is expanding
and developing businesses and markets for not only traditional recycled materials,
but also other new materials. The RMC searches out opportunities to stimulate
demand for products with recycled content, researches emerging technologies
and maintains up-to-date market trend data.
Pennsylvania’s Recycling Technical Assistance program is a low-cost
program that provides local governments with recommendations to improve recycling
programs and the sustainability of those programs. The assistance is provided
through the cooperation of the Governor’s Center for Local Government
Assistance, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, the
Solid Waste Association of North America and DEP. Typical projects include
curbside and drop-off recycling, Pay-As-You-Throw collection programs, leaf
waste collection and composting, materials processing and multi-municipal
Question: What is the current rate of diversion for solid
waste materials from landfills and how much of those diverted materials end
up in new products?
Answer: In April, Governor Edward G. Rendell announced that
Pennsylvanians recycled a state record 4.86 million tons of municipal waste
in 2005, the latest year for which statistics are available. That included
more than 1 million tons of metals, 1.3 million tons of paper, 600,000 tons
of yard wastes, 64,000 tons of plastics, and other materials. The end markets
for these materials include recycled paper, bottles, compost, and the manufacture
of materials and products. The economic benefits of recycling are estimated
at almost $577.4 million in materials collected, and more than $262.7 million
of avoided disposal costs of those materials, in addition to the substantial
environmental gains from recycling.
The Department continues to search out new technologies
to expand recycling and reuse opportunities. One example is food waste composting.
We are now engaged in a pilot study with the Borough of State College, Centre
County, to test and evaluate the effectiveness of a residential food waste
collection and composting program. Additionally, we are involved with a demonstration
project with the City of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania and
five on-campus restaurants to use on-site, in-vessel composting.
Question: What is the state doing to promote and strengthen
the recycling collection infrastructure in terms of collection and the industry
itself, and what role do tax credits and incentives play in that strategy?
Answer: The state recycling law created a Recycling Fund
to provide grants to municipalities to implement and improve recycling collection
infrastructure. Since 1988, the fund has disbursed more than $500 million
in grants. The fund is replenished by a statewide tip fee surcharge of $2
per ton on all solid waste disposed in Pennsylvania.
The private sector also has played a strong role in collection
and processing. They are making significant investments needed to convert
recyclables into commodities. For example, single-stream recycling is becoming
more prevalent across the state.