Environmental groups and Pittsburgh officials call on Pennsylvania to modernize its recycling system

Environmental groups have issued a new report that sets the path for Pennsylvania to modernize its recycling system and prioritize collecting common recyclable materials like glass, aluminum and plastic. The Pennsylvania Resources Council and Penn Environment Research and Policy Center argue if the state does nothing, it will hinder its own recycling efforts.

The report found that there have been few updates to 1988’s Act 101 which launched recycling programs in the state. The groups argue that without regular changes, the state cannot resolve new and emerging challenges in waste management like the growing electronic waste stream.

There are currently 1,141 curbside recycling programs and 814 drop-off recycling programs operating in the state, according to the report, but the materials collected by those programs vary widely.

Municipalities are only mandated to collect three out of a list of eight materials —clear glass, colored glass, aluminum, steel and bimetallic cans, high-grade office paper, newsprint, corrugated paper and plastics— and which materials get collected is up to local leaders. The report argues that this lack of uniformity has created confusing messaging about what materials are recyclable and could lead to valuable materials in the trash.

The report also calls for new programs to tackle recycling electronics and organic waste. Ashleigh Deemer, PennEnvironment deputy director, said these materials are among the fastest-growing waste streams.

“We need to ensure that all common items that we use in our homes and our businesses every day can be recycled easily and effectively,” she added.

Pittsburgh Recycling Mascot_Litterbug_PRC_kk.jpg

Kiley Koscinski


90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh’s recycling mascot, Buster the Raccoon, and the Pennsylvania Resources Council’s litterbug mascot appear at a press conference in Downtown Pittsburgh Wednesday.

The Pennsylvania Resources Council and Penn Environment Research and Policy Center held a press conference in Pittsburgh Wednesday to present the report and call for action from state lawmakers. The groups were joined by Deputy Mayor of Pittsburgh Jake Pawlak and Dormont Borough Manager Ben Estell.

Pawlak said the recommendations laid out in the report could make Pennsylvania a leader in combatting the waste stream.

“Our technological resources to address waste have greatly improved, but our laws and our regulations haven’t kept up,” said Pawlak. “The waste stream has grown enormously, the number and types of waste products that we’re producing has gone up.”

Pittsburgh is in the middle of a program to distribute recycling bins to every resident to encourage more participation in the city’s recycling program. Officials also plan to launch public composting sites next year. But Pawlak argued state revenue is needed to better support these efforts.

In municipalities surrounding Pittsburgh, some recycling programs have cut back on materials accepted in curbside collection. Bethel Park, Dormont, Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair residents can’t recycle glass at the curb.

The Pennsylvania Resources Council launched a glass recycling collaborative among the four municipalities earlier this year that established a permanent glass recycling bin at the Village Square Mall. Residents can drop off their glass recyclables any time at that location.

But Ben Estell, Dormont Borough manager, said while his community found a solution in the drop-off sites, other boroughs need financial support to launch their own drop-off sites. He argued the state should support convenient and effective recycling programs in these smaller municipalities.

“If we do not have regulations that require the infrastructure to be built to make this affordable to the smaller municipalities, we will not make the gains that we need to see the improvements in our environment,” Estell said.

The report details 15 recommendations to modernize and improve Pennsylvania’s recycling system. Among them are universal standards in recycling programs that require municipalities to collect all eight materials instead of three; for the state to develop and publish benchmarks for the recycling system and establish reporting requirements; to promote coordination between municipalities and to enact a landfill ban for select materials.

The report also calls for the state to recommit to the education component of Act 101. It proposes a new program to provide statewide education on the benefits of recycling. The full list of recommendations can be found here.

Deemer said she is hopeful legislators will take steps to improve the recycling system. She argues waste management and recycling issue is a bipartisan one.

“Every legislator has municipalities in their district that are struggling with this,” she said. “So my hope is that this report will spark action and inspire more conversations about this so that we can actually get things moving in Harrisburg on a bipartisan basis.”


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