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Trash talk: Green Philly’s ‘Why can’t I recycle that?’ Webinar Recap
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Trash talk: Green Philly’s ‘Why can’t I recycle that?’ Webinar Recap

Local experts dived deep into problems – and potential solutions – with Philly’s recycling system

The last few weeks – especially as the city combines our trash and recycling yet again – have amplified the inefficiencies riddling our waste collection and recycling system. And as the issues surrounding waste and litter continue to mount, the need for change is clear.

Last Friday, Green Philly hosted a webinar to help our audience understand the complexities that confound our waste collection program, and to determine why can’t we seem to get it right?

Three experts from Philadelphia’s recycling system – Nic Esposito, Maurice Sampson, and Bob Anderson, gave the full rundown on the situation in Philly, from how we got here to how we can progress.  

Couldn’t make it? Here’s a brief overview of what you missed.

What We Learned from the Panel

“Recycling” as we know it today didn’t take its final form until the 1950’s, as most goods were able to be recovered at the end of their use.

But as plastic started to permeate industry, single use items were no longer able to be recovered in the same capacity as they were previously.

Fast forward to 2018, where things began to take a turn for the worst when China closed their ports to U.S recyclables due to the rampant contamination, and the subsequent polluting effects of incinerating contaminated recyclables.

Philadelphia felt this viscerally, as the city sent about 22% of its recyclable waste to China.

Cities, including Philly, had to renegotiate contracts for waste disposal. In an instance of perfectly bad timing, the city was also at the time at end of its recycling contract with Republic Service.

Instead of making a profit for recycling, the city had to reach into its pockets to pay, which is over twice per ton as much as the city pays for trash incineration. With a fiscal incentive to recycle less, it was later revealed in 2019 that nearly half of our recyclables here were being sent to the incinerator in Chester.

Neighborhood-based services like sanitation and transportation only accounts for 5% of the city’s total spending by category for 2019. A contrast to a nearly billion-dollar police budget makes it clear why our recycling programs have ultimately failed.

However, the ultimate issue lies in the collection and management, which the city does not adequately fund the infrastructure or planning.

Add in the complexities that comprise the single stream recycling process, which renders significant amounts of collected recyclables un-usable due to contamination.

So, what can we do as individuals?

Panelist Maurice Sampson, Director of Eastern PA’s Clean Water Action chapter, suggests looking for glass-based goods as your grocery store and demanding from them that you do not want unnecessary plastic packaging on goods.

He suggests telling your neighbor and greater community to do the same, organize and boycott plastics as much as you can.

Bob Anderson, Vice President of Business Development and Growth at Retrievr, recommended services like Retrievr that allows you to recycle clothes and small electronics at zero cost (with the exception of TVs, Microwaves, CFC devices, etc.)


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Jada Ackley
Jada is a senior Environmental Studies major at Temple University with a minor in City and Regional Planning. Currently Jada is an Editorial Intern at Green Philly. Her Interests includes enjoying nature and advocating for sustainability! View all posts by Jada Ackley

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