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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.

In 2017, over 6.36 million tons of recyclable materials were collected and processed in Pennsylvania. This removed an equivalent of more than 9.68 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the air over 2.09 million passenger vehicles from roads for one year; these same recycled resources are also equal to eliminating the electricity used in over 1.64 million homes or the energy used in more than 1.12 million homes. Pennsylvania’s recycling effort in 2017 showed a loss of 1.48 million tons in 2017 from the prior year. This difference is directly related to a reduction in 2017 reports of 1.61 million tons. These figures are also consistent with the decline North American recycling is experiencing overall.

For 2016, Pennsylvania recycled over 7.84 million tons of materials; this cut an equivalent of more than 10.23 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the air and over 2.21 million passenger vehicles from the road for one year. This same 7.84 million tons can also represent the amount of electricity saved in 1.73 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.

Environmental Equivalency Summary image

Larger version of the Environmental Equivalency Summary table.

NOTE: Equivalents have been re-evaluated to include tonnages from Comingled Materials; therefore, are higher than in previous reports.

*Number is high due to unual increase in amount recycled for Mixed Metals that year.

Total Recycling in Pennsylvania image

Larger version of the Total Recycling in Pennsylvania graph.