Renew Subscription
Update Subscription


December 2007


A City of Philadelphia collection worker uses a RecycleBank truck.

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 waste stream.

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 (DEP).

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 the state.

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 industry?

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 cooperation.

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.