Leaders weigh options to update Pennsylvania's 29-year-old recycling law
- A $2-per-ton solid waste fee that generates more than $36 million per year for recycling and waste reduction programs in Pennsylvania is set to expire in January 2020. Advocates are calling for an extension by the end of the year, but many also see this as the best opportunity to update the state's larger 1988 recycling mandate, as reported by TribLIVE.
- Act 101 of 1988 requires any municipality with 5,000 or more residents to provide curbside recycling. According to Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), this currently covers 18% of municipalities in the state but only about 70% of the population.
- Opinions among local industry groups, legislators and environmental advocates range from a simple extension of the per ton fee to a wholesale rethink of the 1988 law. Potential ideas include updating the fee to account for inflation, lowering the population threshold to cover more municipalities and measuring recyclables by volume rather than weight to account for changes in the waste stream.
When Act 101 was originally enacted nearly 30 years ago, curbside recycling programs were still in their infancy. Now, even though many municipalities in the state aren't technically covered by the law, they offer curbside or drop-off service anyway and it is estimated that only 1 million of Pennsylvania's 13 million residents don't have access. This mirrors a recent report from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition that showed about 94% of U.S. residents have access to some form of recycling program.
While municipalities in other states have recently invested in new drop-off centers, the option isn't the right fit in every situation and contamination remains an issue. Curbside programs often lead to better capture rates and are also seen as a potential driver of economic growth for local industry. The Pennsylvania Waste Industries Association, a chapter of the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), has come out in favor of updating Act 101's requirements to include more municipalities.
As this discussion begins at a state level, cities such as Philadelphia have already set their own "zero waste" goals and industry development continues on a variety of fronts. Whatever the details may be, Pennsylvania may find that it's time to follow the example of neighboring states such as Delaware and others throughout the country to bring its recycling guidelines into the 21st century.
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