Expand weekly single-sort recycling service to all and save millions of tax dollars.
Each year, Philadelphia is throwing tax dollars in the garbage that could be spent on neighborhood services such as schools, police, and parks. Philadelphia can save up to $17 million a year by recycling 37.5% of residential waste.45 Every ton of garbage the city recycles saves $54 in landfill and incinerator costs.46 Every ton of garbage recycled earns the city $19.17 from a local, for-profit recycling facility. Philadelphians throw out about 800,000 tons of trash a year. The city controller found that, by increasing Philadelphia's recycling rates to ones comparable to those in peer cities such as Los Angeles, the city would save $17 million a year.47
A 2005-2006 neighborhood pilot program showed that Philadelphians will recycle if provided with these incentives: single-sort containers into which they can throw newspapers, cans, and bottles; weekly curbside pickup; and local store "dollars."
Philadelphia's recycling rate of 5% is the second worst of any large city in the country.48 Yet in 2005, when the city partnered with a private company named RecycleBank to provide weekly curbside recycling pickup for 2,500 residents in Chestnut Hill and West Oak Lane neighborhoods, that rate significantly increased.
During the first year of this program, 90% of households in Chestnut Hill and West Oak Lane recycled. The amount of trash recycled rose 300% in Chestnut Hill and 400% in West Oak Lane.49
Through this pilot program, every household receives a large recycling container that members can fill with water bottles, soda cans, magazines, cardboard boxes, glass jars, and newspapers and wheel to the curb on recycling days. Each container has a bar code that identifies the household that owns it. When the mechanical arm on the city's recycling truck lifts each container, it weighs it and gives that household credit for having recycled that amount. For every ten pounds recycled, the household receives $5 worth of RecycleBank Dollars to use at local stores, with a limit of $400 per year.
Given the proven success of an improved recycling program in two neighborhoods, it is time for Philadelphia to offer convenient and reliable recycling service citywide, service that includes public education and outreach, large single-sort containers, and local store "dollars" as incentives.
Recycling reduces litter. Litter on neighborhood sidewalks and streets decreases substantially when weekly curbside recycling is offered and large, sturdy containers are provided. Residents are more motivated to put all glass, cans, and paper into a single bin, and this sturdy container replaces flimsy garbage bags, which routinely split open, littering sidewalks and streets with their contents.50
Recycling trucks with mechanical hoisting arms will lower worker injuries while maintaining current staffing levels. One in five city trash-collection workers is on disability leave at any one time due to on-the-job injuries.51 Lifting thousands of pounds of garbage is hard on the human body. By using recycling trucks with mechanical arms to hoist up recyclable materials, workers can do their jobs while remaining injury free.
Recycling creates jobs in a growing sector. Philadelphia will create new jobs by pushing up its recycling rate. When the state of Pennsylvania made a concerted effort to raise recycling rates, it created an industry that, as of 2003, employed over 80,000 workers in 3,000 recycling businesses. This recycling and reuse industry generated $18 billion in sales, $3 billion in payroll, and $30 million in taxes in 2003.52
Recycling saves energy and trees. In 2004, paper recycling in Pennsylvania saved over 7.5 million trees. Out of this paper, new products were produced using up to 95% less energy and saving the equivalent of 611 million gallons of gas.53