- Close to 40,000 of Philadelphia's commercial properties (four-fifths of all those in the city) haven't submitted required recycling plans. Approximately 4,600 of the 16,000 plans on record are duplicates, and many have incomplete information, according to a review by The Inquirer.
- Failure to submit a plan can result in fines of up to $300 per day, but the Streets Department doesn't have an updated inspection record and many inspector positions are unfilled. Between 2008 and 2017, commercial property owners paid $108,000 in fines — compared to $3.7 million from individual homeowners.
- According to the Philadelphia Streets Department, 782 commercial inspections were conducted in 2016 and it lacks adequate funding to do more. One potential idea is to work with the Department of Commerce on a campaign to remind property owners of their obligations. The city received 8,000 new or updated recycling plans after a similar effort in 2009.
Philadelphia first began requiring commercial recycling plans in 1994, per state law. This applies to any commercial, industrial or multi-unit residential property. Owners have to fill out a form with information about their building, their service provider(s) and the types of material being recycled. Depending on the type of material generated in a given building, recycling options must be provided for paper, cardboard, cartons, metal, plastics, glass bottles and jars, and building materials. This information must then be provided to tenants.
Since Philadelphia's "zero waste" plan launched last year, the city has put an emphasis on creativity and community engagement in its recycling changes. As evidenced by the fact that commercial recycling plan resources still bear the name of a mayor that left office two years ago, much of this attention has been focused on residential and special event solutions so far. Unlike other cities that came out of the gate with lofty benchmarks, Philadelphia sees its recycling strategy as more pragmatic and fluid.
The city's long-term goal is to reach "zero waste" by 2035. Estimates put the commercial and multi-unit diversion rate around 45%. Yet accurate data is hard to measure. Eventually this data will be rolled into a new "overall diversion rate" that includes residential activity as part of many proposed reforms from the city's Zero Waste & Litter Cabinet. Other upcoming plans include a new building waste audit program to help property owners assess their needs and also fill out the required recycling plans.
Higher submission rates for these plans will help develop a baseline understanding. Though, as many other cities have also experienced, the enforcement challenges won't stop there. The next steps toward any kind of "zero waste" progress for commercial recycling will have to make sure that participation is high, contamination is low and material being collected has a viable market once it leaves the building.