Recycling 101


Recycling (as an industry) is the collection, separation, recovery and sale or reuse of metals, glass, paper, organic waste, plastics and other materials which would otherwise be disposed or processed as municipal waste. 

Recycling (as a process) involves breaking the material down into smaller pieces that can be used as feedstock in another manufacturing process.  Examples are the shredding and pulping of paper; melting glass; shredding or melting plastic; composting organic waste.

Reuse can be defined as actually reusing an item for which it was originally intended (remember glass soda bottles?), or refabricating items into other useful products (purses out of old license plates).

Reasons to Recycle

Keep material out of the landfill.

    • Recyclables have value if gathered in sufficient quantity

    1. Recycling provides safer handling than unmonitored disposal

    2. Landfill space can be used for waste that has no other disposal alternative

Conserve natural resources

  1. Reduce the need for virgin material. 

Less recycled content material is needed than if the same item was made using virgin material.

Manufacturing using recyclables as feedstock requires substantially less energy than when using virgin material

Energy is saved because recycled material feedstock does not have to be mined, transported, and processed before it is manufactured into a usable product

A Brief History of Recycling in Pennsylvania

Act 101 – Then

Act 101, Pennsylvania’s Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling, and Waste Reduction Act was passed in July of 1988.  Act 101 contained four major goals:

  1. 2. Reduce waste going to landfills

  2. 3. Increase the use of products that are recyclable or made from recycled material

4. Educate each person in the Commonwealth as to the value of recycling and waste reduction


The act was implemented statewide over several phases:

      1. All municipalities with populations over 10,000 were the first to be mandated.   Recycling ordinances and programs had to be in place by September of 1990.

      2. Municipalities with populations over 5,000 and more than 300 persons per square mile were mandated in the second phase; recycling ordinances and programs had to be in place by September of 1991.

      3. In addition to residential (curbside) recycling, all commercial, municipal and institutional establishments located within those municipalities were required to recycle according to the local municipal ordinances established.

      4. Municipalities with populations less than 5,000 were exempt from the mandate.

      5. All municipalities must submit annual reports to the county detailing the progress of their recycling programs.


      A county’s responsibility required that:

      1. A county solid waste plan be in place by March, 1991, to be reviewed and revised as necessary every 3 years.  The plan must ensure 10 years of adequate disposal capacity for municipal solid waste (MSW).

      2. A county submit annual reports to the state, based on the reports received from the municipalities, to document recycling efforts within the county. 


      Act 101 was financed by the creation of the Recycling Fund, fed by authorization of the Recycling Fee, a $2-per-ton fee on all waste entering landfills and resource recovery facilities.  The initial fee was to be in effect until October of 1998.  Allocation of the fund is:
                  3% maximum –  fund administration
                  Up to 10% - processing and disposal feasibility studies
                  Up to 30% - public information programs and technical assistance
                  Minimum 70% - grants, studies and research to support recycling, market development and waste reduction

      Distribution of the fund was in the form of grants:
                 901 Planning Grants:  to fund 80% of approved cost for counties to prepare municipal waste management plans and related studies
                  902 Recycling Grants: to fund 90% of approved cost for counties and municipalities to establish municipal recycling programs
                  903 Recycling Coordinator Grants:  to fund up to 50%of salary and approved expenses for a county recycling coordinator
                  904 Performance Grants:  awarded to municipalities based on type and weight of material recycled and population


      Other Grants were made available to assist recycling efforts:

      1. Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Collection and Disposal Grants:  awarded to municipalities and counties that establish HHW collection programs (based on an appropriation from the PA General Assembly and EPA Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

      2. Host Municipality Inspector Grants:  provides training and funds 50% of approved cost for a certified host municipal inspector for    landfills and resource recovery facilities.

      3. Independent Permit Application Review Grants:  reimburse municipalities up to $10,000 for review of disposal facility permits by a licensed engineer

      Act 101 – Now

      The basic provisions of Act 101 are still in place and are the law of the land for mandated municipalities and commercial/municipal/institutional establishments.  The act was revised twice to strengthen and/or clarify some of the provision and to extend the funding provisions from its initial sunset date of 1998. 

      The most recent major change became Act 140, which went into effect in November of 2006.  Two important effects of that act were to:

        1. Extend the sunset date for collection of the recycling fee to December 31, 2011.*

        2. Establish requirements for the spending of performance grants (904) by all Act 101 mandated communities and non-mandated communities that receive over $10,000 in performance grant funds.

        Requirements for municipalities covered under Act 140 include:

          1. All residents must be required by ordinance to have waste and recycling services

          2. Must have an implemented residential curbside recycling program

          3. Must facilitate a commercial recycling program

          4. Must provide semi-annual residential and commercial recycling education

          5. Enforcement Program (includes designated enforcement person or entity)

          6. Special Materials Program – for the collection of special waste such as tires, white goods, HHW, etc.  Must have provision for or participate in county, multi-municipal, or private sector collection effort

          7. Anti-Littering Program – through practice and/or education; sponsor, facilitate, or support programs that address anti-littering and illegal dumping

          8. Recycling Coordinator – must have a designated person or entity responsible for recycling data collection and reporting


          *Legislation was passed in May of 2010 reauthorizing the $2.00 per ton recycling fund fee and extending the sunset date of Act 101 to 2020.