New study urges Pennsylvania to improve recycling efforts

A report released Wednesday said Pennsylvania should require curbside pickup for common recyclables such as glass and plastic and recommit itself to educating the public about the importance of recycling.

The goal is to “get Pennsylvania back on track as a leader in recycling and waste reduction,” said Sarah Alessio Shea, deputy director of Pennsylvania Resources Council, which released Wednesday’s report along with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center.

The report, which is available onlineincludes recommendations on how Pennsylvania can improve recycling efforts and reduce waste.

Statewide recycling began in Pennsylvania with the Municipal Waste Planning Recycling and Waste Reduction Act, also known as Act 101. Alessio Shea said the measure made Pennsylvania a national leader on the recycling front, but it needs to be modernized to keep up with the growing amount of waste.

Ashleigh Deemer, deputy director at PennEnvironment, called for improved organic waste recycling programs and more initiatives to recycle electronics, which she identified as “one of the fastest growing waste streams.”

“We need more funding for our recycling programs, and we need to make producers pay for what they create,” Deemer added.

Deemer also called for bans on single-use plastic bags — such as the ones recently passed in Pittsburgh and single-use take-out containers.

“There isn’t one single policy that will solve our waste crisis,” Deemer said. “It will require a concerted effort.”

Pittsburgh Deputy Mayor Jake Pawlak, who heads the city’s Office of Management and Budget, agreed that Act 101 needs to be updated.

“The waste stream has grown enormously,” Pawlak said, adding that improvements in technology should also provide better ways for dealing with waste than were available in 1988.

Pawlak said Pittsburgh officials have enacted policies to try to address the issue, including setting a zero-waste goal for city government by 2030 and creating a composting pilot program that is set to launch in two city neighborhoods next year. Still, he said, truly addressing the issue will require participation and funding from state leaders, as many of the city’s current projects are funded only through grants or by allocating cash from the general fund.

In other communities, recycling programs have been cut back. For instance, Dormont and Upper St. St. Clair no longer collect glass recyclables at residents’ curbs. In Dormont, there are about 10 recycling sites where residents can drop off materials, said Borough Manager Ben Estell.

“These issues don’t just affect the large municipalities like the city of Pittsburgh. They also affect the small municipalities like Dormont,” he said.

Estell said people in the borough want to recycle, but municipalities need more financial support to implement effective, easy and convenient programs.

Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, or via Twitter .

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