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Sustainability Week 2021

Recycling and Food Waste Reduction

Recycling…Not Just the Same Old Story!

We're all aware of the concept of Recycling & Food Waste Reduction and the important role it plays in managing the garbage generated in homes and businesses, and how it reduces the need for landfills and incinerators, but yet and still it's one of the biggest challenges facing Pennsylvania and the nation as a whole.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, In 2018, the amount of Municipal Solid Waste, or MSW,  generated nationwide was 292.4 million tons. Estimates suggest that 75% of that 292.4 million tons in American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it – roughly 69.0 million tons of MSW were recycled, 24.9 million tons composted; and about 17.7 million tons of food were managed by other methods.

Estimates show that America generates 21.5 million tons of food waste each year. If that food was composted, it would reduce the same amount of greenhouse gas as taking 2 million cars off the road for a year.

Recycling goes way beyond the plastics, cardboard, class, paper, plastics and other household items we often think of. It also includes electronics, antifreeze, motor oil, hazardous waste and manufacturing and business waste when you consider some other non-traditional types of waste that can be recycled.

Commitment and Consistency

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.

In 2018, Pennsylvania recycled over 5.47 million tons of resources. Pennsylvanians recycled materials that cut more than 9.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the air. This number is also equal to over 2 million cars taken off the road for one year. That same 5.47 million tons can also represent the amount of electricity saved in 1.56 million American homes per year.

In 2020, Governor Tom Wolf signed House Bill 1808 into law to support advanced recycling of plastic scrap in the state. The bill requires the conversion of post-use polymers through advanced recycling to comply with applicable US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations and ensures that post-use plastics are not misclassified as solid waste.

Since 1990, the department of General Services has overseen the Commonwealth Agency Recycling program. In 2019 the program began using the "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle" approach which has helped the commonwealth turn waste into reusable materials and generate nearly $1.1 million in revenue for the commonwealth.

The Commonwealth Agency Recycling Program assists state agencies in the identification, collection, and disposal of recyclable items ranging from office paper and cardboard to scrap metals and electronic waste. This year, the program has recycled 1,084,300 pounds of paper, 429,515 pounds of cardboard and over 85,000 pounds of bottles and cans.  In addition, the commonwealth has securely destroyed enough data hosting media to power a two-bedroom home for a month. 

We take seriously our responsibility and duty as an environmental steward," said Gov. Tom Wolf.

So why does Recycling & Food Waste Reduction continue to be such a challenge for Pennsylvania and the nation as a whole? It all boils down to Commitment and Consistency.

What You Can Do to Support Recycling and Food Waste Reduction.

  • Make a difference in the workplace…or at home. Learn more about how you can be more effective with your recycling efforts, no matter where you are. The Commonwealth Recycling Program has this useful FAQ to assist you in understanding how and what to recycle from your office or home office!
  • Buy recycled. Pay attention to the products you buy, how they are packaged and shipped. Over time, you may discover alternative products you like that can be used more than once and/or use less packaging or those that cannot be recycled. Check out the PA Department of Environmental Protection's Recycling Markets Search to locate manufacturers of recycled products.
  • Consumer Purchases. Pay attention to the products you buy, how they are packaged and shipped. Over time, you may discover alternative products you like that can be used more than once and/or use less packaging or those that cannot be recycled.
  • Use the 3 R's. Become familiar with the 3 R's – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle –  and how you can use them to bolster your recycling efforts. For example, using reusable bags instead of plastic bags works to help eliminate single-use plastics.
  • Reduce food waste. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than one-third of all food goes uneaten due to waste. The  Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS) helps to reduce agricultural surplus waste by creating an efficient mechanism for producers to donate safe, wholesome food by reimbursing them for the costs of harvesting, processing, packaging and transporting donated food to the non-profit sector. 
  • Composting. When food waste can't be avoided or you've done everything you could to use your wasted food, certain inedible parts will still remain and can be turned into compost to feed and nourish the soil. Like yard waste, food waste scraps can also be composted. Composting these wastes creates a product that can be used to help improve soils, grow the next generation of crops, and improve water quality. You can compost at home using this Composting at Home Guide from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

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