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Recycling in Pennsylvania

Statewide recycling in Pennsylvania began in 1988 with the Municipal Waste Planning Recycling and Waste Reduction Act (Act 101) that requires larger municipalities to recycle.

Today, more than 11.6 million residents at least 94 percent of the state's population have access to recycling. About 79 percent have convenient access to recycling through about 1,050 curb-side pickup programs. Since Pennsylvania is largely rural, 870 drop-off programs extend recycling to the greatest number of communities.

The Act established a $2-per-ton fee on all waste disposed at municipal waste landfills and waste-to-energy facilities established grants for local collection programs, public education, materials processing and composting facilities, equipment and technical training.

Act 101 also requires each county to develop county plans to manage its own wastes and assure a minimum of ten years disposal capacity. Each year, the counties report countywide municipal waste generation and recycling data to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for use in compiling a statewide analysis of recycling and its benefits. Counties are required to submit plan revisions to DEP by the time their remaining disposal capacity is reduced to three years. All plans are submitted to DEP for approval.

In 2014, Pennsylvania recycled over 16.84 million tons of resources. A factor that greatly increased the total annual tonnages was the recycling of materials resulting from the demolition of the original Scranton YWCA in Lackawanna County by the University of Scranton and the subsequent construction of a new structure in its place. This recycling effort, along with the many efforts made by Pennsylvanians across the state, represents the following environmental benefits from the 16.84 million recycled tonnages: more than 15.88 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions removed from the air, the amount of electricity saved in 2.18 million American homes per year, or 3.34 million in passenger vehicles taken off the road for one year.

In 2013, Pennsylvania recycled over 6.12 million tons of resources. This effort cut more than 7.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the air. That same 7.5 million tons can also represent the amount of electricity saved in 1.03 million American homes per year. This is also equal to over 1.58 million in passenger vehicles taken off the road for one year.

In 2012, Pennsylvania recycled almost 8.5 million tons of resources. The difference between recycled materials reported for 2012 and 2013 can be attributed to several factors that temporarily inflated the recycling numbers for 2012. A major factor was several hurricanes, including Superstorm Sandy, that caused severe destruction across the state. These storms lead to major increases of yard and wood debris, metal siding, shingles, etc., from homes and businesses. 

Another factor that temporarily raised 2012's results was the opening of a new scrap company in one of Pennsylvania's counties. The county recycled over 2.3 million tons of mixed metals during the dealer's first year due to a huge participation throughout the very rural communities. After the initial 2012 surge, the recycling numbers reported for 2013 are more in line with the county's historic trend for mixed metals recycling.