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Community recycling efforts can turn trash into cash

While the amount of aluminum cans and plastic bottles being dragged to the curb in recycling bins is on the rise in most northern communities, municipal leaders admit there is little they can do to force those who aren’t recycling to do so.

“It’s extremely difficult to force people to recycle,” said Lorin Meeder, Cranberry’s environmental programs coordinator. “We are never going to get 100 percent participation.”

While municipal leaders are hard pressed to strong-arm people into recycling, most are eager to promote the importance of doing so for two reasons — environmental concerns and money.

In an attempt to encourage municipalities to push their residents and businesses to recycle, the state Department of Environmental Protection offers performance grants.

The grants call for payment of $5 for every ton of recyclable material collected from homes and a matching $5 for every ton that is collected from business. However, if a community manages to collect more recyclable materials from its businesses than its residents, each extra ton of recyclable business waste is worth $10.

“It would be lucrative to enhance commercial recyclables because they figure into the performance grants,” said Kurt Knaus, the DEP’s press secretary.

Knaus said 1,580 communities are eligible for the grants statewide. About 800 apply each year. The average grant is $27,772, he said. The application deadline for the grants is Friday.

In McCandless, that formula garners about $60,000 in grant money annually. In Cranberry, about $50,000 was received this year.

In some cases, that money must be used to promote and aid recycling, but in other cases, the money can be used in any way the municipality sees fit, said Pete Previte, Allegheny County recycling coordinator.

Pennsylvania residents and business owners generate more than 14 million tons of waste a year, according to the National Solid Wastes Management Association. More than 50 million tons of waste — about 23 percent of the waste produced — was recycled nationwide in 2000, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Statewide, combined residential and commercial recycling tonnage has stayed relatively flat over the past three years, averaging about 2.1 million tons, according to Tom Rathbone of the DEP.

While statewide numbers show that during the past three years, the amount of collected recyclable materials has stayed relatively flat, officials in many northern communities say their figures are rising each year although they did not have exact numbers immediately available.

Pointing to those annual increases, officials say they think people have gotten the message.

“You know, we don’t really have to enforce our recycling regulations — each year, the numbers go up” McCandless Manager Tobias Cordek said. “People have really embraced it.”

In Butler County, four communities fall under the state law and must recycle: Cranberry, the city of Butler and Butler and Center townships.However, Sheryl Kelly, coordinator of Butler County Recycling and Waste Management, said curbside pickup of items, such as aluminium cans, plastics and newspaper, is available throughout the county. Many municipalities also have an ordinance that requires residents to recycle or face a fine.

In Allegheny County, 81 of 130 communities offer curbside pickup, although only about 60 are required by law to do so, Previte said.

Statewide, regulations have set a goal of having 35 percent of the all the trash that is produced be materials that can be recycled. By doing so, only 65 percent of waste would end up in a landfill.

At this point, Allegheny County is only recycling 23 percent of its waste, Previte said.

He noted the shortfall is likely because 49 communities in Allegheny County still do not require recycling, but acknowledged that many people who should be recycling might not be doing so.

While trash haulers most likely are aware of who is recycling and who is not, they are not responsible for making sure recycling is done.

That job falls squarely on municipalities, which annually must report the amount of recyclable goods collected in their community.

In Shaler, numbers show that recycling amounts have jumped then fallen throughout the past three years. In most cases, residential recycling numbers have increased, but collection of materials, such as aluminum cans and glass from businesses, has dropped.

Debbie Vita, Shaler’s assistant manager, said while the township could fine those not recycling, there isn’t the time or money to do so. Vita said she could not recall a case when a resident of business was fined for not recycling.

“It’s really pretty much a good-faith effort,” Vita said. “We don’t have the recycling police.” Additional Information:

The law

According to state law:

  • Communities that have a population of 10,000 or more are required to recycle.
  • Communities that have between 5,000 and 10,000 are required to recycle if they have more than 300 people per square mile.
  • Communities required to recycle must educate and at least twice a year remind residents • via newsletters or other means • that they must recycle.


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