Featured Image: iStock.com/Kuzma
Recycling has always been a burning issue. With activists calling for more drop off points and greater concern. But the reality is that most people don’t want to recycle. They consider it a cumbersome and tedious task and would rather just throw everything in one trash can.
All that is about to change. Until very recently Philadelphians recycled a dismal amount of their trash. But all that began to change a few years ago when the city stepped up its mandatory recycling program and cracked down on violators. Now residents are diverting nearly 20-percent of their trash – and that’s saving the city fees from expensive landfills
There’s a good reason behind this law, too. Electronic goods contain precious metals like cadmium, lead, and mercury which are hazardous wastes, threatening us if not properly disposed. Additionally, this encourages companies to reuse valuable metals so we don’t have to dig up more from the earth – which is often a resource-intensive process.
According to the law, if the waste is “solid” i.e. “ any solid, liquid, or contained gaseous material that is no longer being used and is either recycled, thrown away, or stored until enough is collected to treat or dispose of it”. Hazardous waste, according to the law should have one of these characteristics
The law then goes on to further say that “If, after careful evaluation of these other considerations, one or both of the factors are not met, then this fact may be an indication that the material is not legitimately recycled, and there will be criminal consequences.” These consequences are in the shape of fines, tickets and in extreme cases a short sentence.
Philadelphia was the first city in the country to enact mandatory curbside recycling in 1987, and it’s one of the toughest laws in the nation. Other cities like San Diego and Seattle have followed suit, but Philadelphia’s recycling rates were low for years.
So when Mayor Michael took office in 2008, he brought a revolution with him. The city started picking up recycling each week, instead of once every two weeks. It added plastics and cardboard to the list of acceptable items. It spent millions of dollars on trucks, bins, advertising and education. Philadelphia had a good incentive: it could earn money selling recyclables, while saving money on high tipping fees.
After this law was passed, recycling has increased by a whopping 58% the highest in any city in the USA. Philly ranks among the best, collecting more than 470 pounds of recyclables per household each year. And collection has increase by 155% in the last six years.
To keep garbage costs in check, and to cash in by collecting more recycled material, the city sent dozens of city workers out roaming the streets, and they began hitting scofflaws in the pocketbook. After the passing of this law many Philadelphia residents have paid thousands of dollars in trash and recycling fines
Between the money not spent in landfill fees and the money earned selling recycled materials, the city is realizing a net savings of about one million dollars a month. While Philadelphia has more work ahead of it if the city wants to further slash waste, it’s clear that Philly is on the right path towards waste reduction. And if this city can turn around a failing recycling program and improve collection by 155 percent, then there is a lot that it can accomplish.