The New Jersey Senate’s Environment and Energy Committee combined two bills that were designed to analyze the state’s recycling challenges and recommend ways of reusing more recyclable materials. The resulting bill (S-3939/3-944) released by the committee on Nov. 18, calls for the creation of a Recycling Market Development Council which would report on best practices to reduce the contamination of recyclables, and recommend ways of stimulating demand for the materials.

Committee chairman Sen. Bob Smith (D, Middlesex and Somerset), said he hopes the council will find a solution to the recycling crisis that has deepened since China stopped taking the rest of the world’s materials in January 2018. “Recycling is in big trouble in New Jersey just like it is all over the world,” Smith said in an interview. “Once the Chinese said, ‘We’re not taking any more of your crapola,’ the whole world was in trouble.”

Smith said the evidence on the state’s current recycling rate is anecdotal rather than statistical, noting that the rate varied widely between municipalities. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said only about 37% of New Jersey’s household waste is now recycled, down from more than 50% in the 1990s. At the Department of Environmental Protection, the most recent data is for 2016, a spokeswoman said.

The council would investigate how to use more recyclables in new products; how to encourage the use of materials with recycled content, and whether there are ways of stimulating demand for products that are made with recycled materials. It would also recommend ways of reducing the contamination that results in recyclable materials becoming trash, and identify whether laws or regulations need to change to implement the proposals.

If finally approved by lawmakers, the council would consist of the commissioner of the DEP and the state Treasurer, plus six members of the public, three of whom would have recycling expertise. One would be a member of the Association of New Jersey Recyclers, a nonprofit advocacy group. One of the original bills proposed setting up a recycling task force to address “changing market conditions” and examine the challenges faced by local authorities in collecting and processing recyclables.

Some recyclable material is not actually recycled because it gets mixed with trash and so can’t be reprocessed, Tittel said. He cited a food waste program in Lambertville that is being disrupted by people throwing trash or cigarette butts into the food bins after they are left on the street for collection.

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