Wednesday, May 23, 2012

After 25 years, how's recycling doing in NJ? - Part 1

On the 25th anniversary of New Jersey's mandatory recycling law, L. Grace Spencer, chairwoman of the state Assembly's Environment and Solid Waste Committee called together state agencies and public and private recycling interest on Monday to ask the question: How's New Jersey doing?

The disappointing news is that the 1987 Recycling Act's goal of recycling 50 percent of all municipal solid waste by 1995 is still only a goal today.

The good news is that, despite backsliding from a high of 42.8 percent in 1997 to a range in the low-to-mid 30s through much of the past decade, recycling numbers again are on the upswing.

The amount of municipal solid waste recycled in the state reached 40 percent in 2010--the latest year for which total statistics are available--a three percent increase over 2009 totals. 

Why recycling rates are improving

Advances in technology have allowed numerous counties and towns to combine what used to be separate recycling containers (cans and bottles in one--newspaper in another) into a single household recycling receptacle.

Called 'single-stream,' this approach is proving to increase per-household recycling. It also is credited with lowering municipal and county collection costs (although sometimes requiring a substantial investment to modify sorting and processing  facilities).

The state's recycling numbers also have been boosted by a more recent law requiring the recycling of so-called 'e-waste'--worn out electronic equipment like computers, monitors, printers and TV sets that previously would have gone to landfills.

DEP's Assistant Commissioner Jane Kozinski told the committee that some 20,000 tons of e-waste was accepted at 520 sites in New Jersey last year.

Kozinski reeled off some discouraging facts and statistics: 
  • Only one county (Gloucester) reached a 50% recycling rate in 2010.
  • A third of all municipalities recycled less than 25% of their waste, while 16 percent reached 50%
  • Many commercial businesses, offices and institutions still do not know that recycling is mandatory.
  • The capacity of recycling containers can be an impediment--recycling stops when the can is full. 
  • Some towns do not have curbside pickups and their drop off centers are not conveniently located, or have limited hours of operation, or may not be available to commercial residents. 

And some positives, too: 

  • A recycling fee, imposed on solid waste disposed of in New Jersey, generated $19 million last year.
  • Municipalities reaped $13.5 million of the total in the form of grants to fund their recycling programs.
  • Counties received $5.5 million to support their recycling efforts, with the balance going to university research on recycling and to the  DEP for program administration costs.   
  • The additional 364,000 tons of material recycled in 2010 (over 2009) saved $26 million in disposal costs and generated $45.5 million in sales of recyclable material.
  • Some 31,000 jobs were supported in 2010 by New Jersey recycling.
  • If the state can increase its rate to 50 percent, another 10,000 jobs could be created inside and outside the state

NEXT: In
Part 2 of our report, other recycling participants tell their stories

Have a suggestion on how New Jersey can reach or exceed its 50% recycling goal?  Care to share a notable recycling success? Or failure? You don't have to politely wait for us to finish this topic before you chime in. Tell us what you think about recycling right now in the opinion box below. If one is not visible, activate it by clicking on the tiny 'comments' line.  

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