This year in Philadelphia, while widespread incineration has stopped, taxpayers will be coughing up millions more to handle the waste few haulers want to deal with anymore. The city is now paying about $106 a ton to dispose of its recycling, up from $78 a ton this time last year, said Scott McGrath, the city’s environmental planner. Two years ago, the city was paying only $5 a ton, still far from the days when recycling was actually a money maker.
In all, taxpayers will pony up $9 million this fiscal year for Waste Management to haul their throwaway plastics, glass bottles, and paper — almost double what the city was paying just a few years ago. But McGrath said Philadelphia has pledged to continue recycling, and residents say they want it. “We want to remind everybody, yes we are recycling,” McGrath said. “There still seems to be a little confusion about that.”
McGrath and other industry experts say consumers can play a big role by placing non-recyclable or dirty items in the trash, rather than the blue recycling bins. Indeed, so much of the city’s recycling stream is contaminated by non-recycling items and plastic or paper ruined by food waste or water, that at least a fifth goes to a landfill or is incinerated at a waste-to-energy facility.
McGrath said there is some indication the recycling market could improve by spring, but that’s no sure thing. The country’s recycling crisis has hit Philadelphia hard, starting in 2018 when China, then the U.S.’s biggest buyer of recyclables, shut off the faucet by demanding loads be nearly pure. Philadelphia, and most U.S. cities, can’t come close to producing pure loads even now. Other countries, such as Vietnam and India, started taking recyclables, but now they too are demanding the same kind of purity.