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Letter: The Economic and Environmental Benefits of Recycling

Opinion letter submitted by New Jersey DEP Commissioner Bob Martin

The following letter to the editor was submitted by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin, who writes about the challenges of recycling in the state.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the state’s milestone Mandatory Recycling Act this year, it’s time to re-energize the recycling movement in New Jersey and go for the green. Recycling offers environmental benefits and dollars for municipal coffers — a real green win-win if there ever was one for our state.

Over the past 25 years recycling has become second nature to many New Jersey residents and businesses. Containers bearing the familiar recycling logo filled with bottles and cans, and bundles of magazines, newspapers and cardboard, placed at curbsides in neighborhoods across the state are part of the Jersey landscape.

State residents in large numbers have embraced recycling for its environmental benefits. In 2010 we saw an encouraging increase in New Jersey’s recycling rate (recyclables that are not trashed or burned) – up from 37 percent in 2009 to 40 percent for municipal solid waste. But there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Even after 25 years of mandatory recycling and technological advances that make recycling convenient and cost-effective, we are still missing out on financial opportunities by not doing enough to reach our 50 percent statewide recycling goal. Many cities and towns are still not capturing the full economic benefits of recycling.

A key component to the Christie Administration’s strategy for solid waste disposal is to recycle more materials, not to bury and burn them. So we intend to once again kick start the recycling movement in New Jersey. To get people and businesses and institutions who still have not embraced recycling to understand the benefits recycling bring to the environment and their communities.

Everyone has a role to play: the pizza shop in the strip mall, the small business in an office complex, the middle school in your town, and right down to the individual at his or her office or home work station.

To date, a third of New Jersey’s municipalities recycle less than 25 percent of their municipal trash. Only 16 percent have reached the mandatory 50 percent recycling rate. Running an effective recycling program has a cost for municipalities, including recycling infrastructure, personnel, training, and recycling collections. However, the economics of recycling versus disposal demonstrates that recycling provides a net economic benefit to cities and towns that are diligent about recycling.

Our jump in recycling rates from 2009 to 2010 added up to real dollars for local and county government coffers. The extra 364,000 tons of paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and other materials recycled in 2010, instead of going to landfills or incinerators, equated to $26 million in savings from avoided solid waste disposal costs, plus $45.5 million in revenues from sales of recycled materials.

For New Jersey to reach the 50 percent recycling goal we must annually recycle another 1.1 million tons of material. Disposal of those 1.1 million tons costs New Jersey residents about $75 million annually in disposal fees, most of which is financed by property taxes.

In short, many municipalities are leaving money on the table by not maximizing recycling. Municipalities save money for every ton of recyclable material that is not landfilled or burned. As county and municipal governments struggle to balance their budgets, improved recycling should be part of smart municipal fiscal management.

The Department of Environmental Protection is helping towns and counties improve their recycling. Last year New Jersey provided $19 million in recycling grants, including $13.5 million to municipalities and $5.5 million to counties. These grants are used to fund various recycling activities, such as purchases of new recycling containers, public education, household hazardous waste collection events, staff to run recycling programs, etc... 

The DEP also is engaging municipal and county stakeholders, and business representatives to develop new strategies to boost recycling. Through this effort, stakeholders are evaluating new strategies (single stream recycling, enforcement, food waste recycling, pay-as-you-throw, collection frequency) and sharing information on existing and new markets for recyclable materials.

On June 28, the DEP and the New Jersey Solid Waste Advisory Committee hosted an Urban Recycling Summit, a workshop designed to address recycling challenges unique to urban communities. The Department is planning similar programs for rural communities. This partnership is critical as the DEP evaluates regulatory changes that may boost recycling.

I congratulate our towns and counties in New Jersey that are recycling superstars on their commitment to the environment and to fiscal responsibility. I encourage all towns in New Jersey to take the recycling commitment seriously. The contributions of recycling to environmental protection and sound financial management are too rich to pass up.

Bob Martin

New Jersey DEP Commissioner

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