Begin Main Content Area

Recycling in Pennsylvania

 

In testimony, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials urged the Joint Legislative Conservation Committee to permanently reauthorize a crucial component of the landmark Act 101 of 1988 that established Pennsylvania's modern recycling program.



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.

For 2016, Pennsylvania recycled over 7.84 million tons of resources. Pennsylvanians recycled materials that cut more than 10.21 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the air. This recycling number is also equal to 2.19 million in passenger vehicles taken off the road for one year. That same 7.84 million tons can also represent the amount of electricity saved in 1.53 million American homes per year. A major factor causing stagnation of the amount of materials recycled in 2016 was the continuation of a sluggish economy in 2015, with further loss of Commonwealth businesses.

In 2015, Pennsylvania recycled over 7.78 million tons of resources. This recycling effort, along with the many efforts made by Pennsylvanians across the state, represents the following environmental benefits: more than 10.56 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions removed from the air for one year, the amount of electricity saved in 1.58 million American homes per year, or 2.26 million in passenger vehicles taken off the road for one year.

For 2014, Pennsylvania recycled over 16.91 million tons of resources. Pennsylvanians recycled materials that cut more than 16.33 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the air. This recycling number is also equal to over 3.50 million in passenger vehicles taken off the road for one year. That same 16.91 million tons can also represent the amount of electricity saved in 2.45 million American homes per year. A factor that greatly increased the total annual tonnages for 2014 was the recycling of 7.72 million tons of construction materials resulting from the demolition by the University of Scranton in Lackawanna County of several buildings that included the original Scranton YWCA and the subsequent construction of new structures in their place.

In 2013, Pennsylvania recycled over 6.12 million tons of resources. Pennsylvanians recycled materials that cut more than 7.77 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the air. This number is also equal to over 1.66 million in passenger vehicles taken off the road for one year. That same 7.5 million tons can also represent the amount of electricity saved in 1.16 million American homes per year.

For 2012, Pennsylvania recycled over 8.5 million tons of resources. Pennsylvanians recycled enough materials this year to remove more than 17.51 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the air. This amount also is equal to removing 3.75 million passenger vehicles off the road for one year or the electricity use saved for 2.62 million homes in one year.

The difference between recycled materials reported for 2012 and subsequent years can be attributed to several factors that temporarily inflated the recycling numbers for the year. One such 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 Pennsylvania 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 huge participation throughout the very rural communities. After the initial 2012 surge, the recycling numbers reported for subsequent years are more in line with the county's historic trend for mixed metals recycling.


Total Recycling in Pennsylvania