The collapse of the recycling market — not just here in New Jersey, but across the country — was triggered by the collapse of markets in China and elsewhere in Asia to accept recycled materials. The net result is the erosion of the entire sector, increasing costs to local governments and counties and straining already tight budgets.
Industry experts, officials, and environmentalists called on the state not to abandon three decades of recycling mandates but rather to take a new and comprehensive look at how to redevelop recycling markets and create new incentives to revive a sector that employs 27,000 people and adds nearly $6 billion to New Jersey’s economy.
New Jersey’s state Legislature looked to examine ways to fix the state’s recycling system, now in such a crisis that some communities pay more to recycle than to dispose of their garbage. The hearing, before the Legislature’s top environmental committees, is likely to lead to new bills to ban throw-away plastic bags, straws and polystyrene foam containers, a measure vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy last year, and to recycle, a bill currently on his desk.
Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, said he hopes to pass a stronger plastics ban in the lame-duck Legislature this fall. He also would like to see the improved food-waste bill, which he has sponsored, win passage this year. “Part of the hearing was to find out how do we reinvigorate our recycling markets. We just don’t have the end markets for recycled materials,’’ Smith said, a perspective repeatedly voiced during the two-hour hearing in Toms River.
To that end, there were plenty of recommendations, primarily revolving around improving practices involving the collection of recyclables and eliminating — or at the very least, reducing — contamination of materials recycled at the curbs. Others suggested more uniform standards of what is recycled and how it is collected. Others, like Debbie Mans, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said more data needs to be collected on where recycled materials end up and to identify key elements of developing recycling markets.
“Certainly, it is not time to panic,’’ said Gary Sondermeyer, a vice president of a recycling company and former longtime recycling official at the DEP. New Jersey can once again revive its recycling efforts, he said, noting the state built up a nationally recognized recycling program 32 years ago. “We can do it again.’’