The following letter to the editor was issued on February 2nd, 2021.
Recycling is our state’s greatest team effort. Millions of New York residents, including here in Tompkins County, set out approximately three billion pounds of newspapers, magazines, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, and metal cans for curbside pick-up and recycling each year.
Recycling programs deliver environmental benefits, including waste reduction, conservation of precious natural resources, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. From an economic standpoint, recycling supports thousands of green sector jobs across the state and reduces the need to create new landfills.
But today, local recycling programs in New York are financially unstable and are struggling to continue. The value of curbside recyclables is insufficient to cover the costs to sort and process the recyclables. Statewide, these costs for municipalities and recycling system rate payers are estimated to exceed $80 million in 2021.
The catalyst for this financial dilemma? Severely reduced demand as China no longer accepts much of the world’s recyclables. On a local level, the challenge to municipal officials to maintain recycling programs is made even more difficult due to COVID-19 budget challenges and budget limitations.
Local recycling is at a crossroads. Municipalities cannot continue to sustain the increased costs to process recyclables caused by decreased market demand and an outdated recovery system in need of investment and modernization.
To respond to this challenge, NY State Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Steve Englebright are teaming up to propose legislation (S.1185) that would require consumer product manufacturers to finance the recycling of their packaging and recyclable printed paper and invest in modernizing the operations at local recycling facilities.
Under the proposed legislation, municipalities could still be engaged in material recovery much as they have been for the past 30 years, but consumer product brand-owners would be required to reimburse municipalities for the collection and processing of their product packaging and recyclable printed paper, as well as costs to educate the public about how to properly recycle. Product producers control the type and quantity of their packaging and need to be part of the recycling and waste reduction solution.
Requiring corporate producers to chip into the end-of-life costs for their products will help municipalities sustain local recycling. It will also help protect our planet and its natural resources for future generations. The legislation incentivizes manufacturers to: 1) reduce packaging; 2) increase the packaging’s recycled content, and 3) make the packaging easier to recycle.
New York State has a choice: remain stuck at the recycling crossroads marked by unsustainable municipal costs, stagnant material recovery rates, and aging recycling infrastructure, or pass Senate Bill 1185 and lead the nation in establishing the recycling management system of the future.
Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management