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Environmental groups want to revamp Pa’s outdated recycling laws
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Environmental groups want to revamp Pa’s outdated recycling laws

Waste has increased 45% over the past 30 years. Act 101, PA’s recycling law, has not been updated since 1988.

According to a new report by Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) and PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, Pennsylvania’s solid waste laws haven’t modernized with our current waste habits. PRC and PennEnvironment joined Philadelphia officials to discuss report findings and announce plans to increase recycling rates on Thursday at City Hall.

Act 101, a recycling law that made Pennsylvania a leader in 1988, has not been updated in over 30 years. In that timeframe, the amount of waste generated increased by 45%. The original law focused on four primary goals: managing municipal waste, advancing recycling, and protecting public health and safety. the four goals were:

  1. Recycle at least 25% of all municipal waste after January 1, 1997
  2. Waste generation should be less per capita (from 1988 – 1997)
  3. Education for Pennsylvanians about the value of recycling
  4. Increase products with recycled content and that are recyclable

All four goals have not been achieved or have an uncertain status. Although Pennsylvania has had education around recycling, Pennsylvania does not release yearly recycling rates, waste generation has grown, and there isn’t enough evidence about materials with recycled content.

The report about Act 101 provides 15 recommendations to modernize Pennsylvania’s recycling system, including requiring additional recycling, enforcing commercial recycling requirements, focusing on organic waste programs, and developing a deposit return system for beverages.

Recycling programs differ across Pennsylvania.

Act 101 also has inconsistencies across the state for waste diversion. Only 475 municipalities across the state are required to offer curbside recycling, and only three materials out of eight listed are required to be collected (aluminum cans, steel/tin cans, 3 types of plastic, newsprint, corrugated paper, and clear, brown and green glass).

Beyond common items, consumer products (and waste streams) have changed since Act 101 was enforced. Many single-use plastics and electronics don’t have end-of-life solutions. “Managing other parts of the waste stream in many cases requires a broader statewide solution such as enforcement of commercial recycling requirements where collected materials are combined in a truck that crosses municipal boundaries, recycling of tires, and e-waste,” said  Scott McGrath, Environmental Services Director, Philadelphia Streets Department. 

Recycling offsets products from raw materials and reduces greenhouse gasses. Recycled material offset GHGs equivalent to taking more than 2 million vehicles off the road in one year and has contributed $22.6 billion to Pennsylvania’s gross state product. 

Photo by Magda Ehlers

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Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher

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