Action News Investigation Update: State of Philadelphia's Recycling Program

ByChad Pradelli and Cheryl Mettendorf WPVI logo
Friday, April 10, 2020
City looking to tackle recycling program's shortcomings
Only 14 percent of what goes curbside is actually repurposed through the city's recycling program.

The Investigative Team first reported in 2018 how more than half the recycling you put curbside was being incinerated instead of re-used to make new products.

The City says it's costing millions to recycle what little they could out of your bin.

Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams told Action News the situation is still challenging.

"It costs us more to recycle than to collect trash which was unprecedented five years ago," said the Commissioner.

Back in 2018, our investigation revealed the City began incinerating everything from plastic bottles to metal cans.

Our cameras watched as garbage trucks hauled in garbage to be burned at the Southwest Philadelphia Covanta facility.

Now, two years later, Commissioner Williams says only 14 percent of what goes curbside is actually repurposed.

"Could we increase that rate? Sure we could, if residents took a moment to realize what is recyclable," he said.

The crisis began when China, which used to buy much of America's recycling, tightened standards, turning away what it called contaminated foreign garbage.

Nearly a decade ago, the City was making $6 million dollars a year shipping out Philadelphia trash.

But with added restrictions, and under its new five-year contract with Waste Management, it now pays roughly 10 to re-purpose what it could.

Commissioner Williams added, "I think the contamination rate is going to be a factor for years to come and we have to change the way we recycle at home and collect at curbside."

Williams still believes it is imperative we recycle, and that Philadelphians are required to do so under state law.

To turn recycling back into revenue, the Commissioner is looking at pilot programs that ramp up efforts to reduce food waste.

"We could take food waste and other biodegradable material and turn it into an energy source," he adds.

The City also hopes its new slogan, "Take a Minute Before You Bin It", sticks with residents .

Williams said residents should remember when they set out recyclables to make sure food resign is washed out. And to keep paper and cardboard dry otherwise it can't be recycled.

The City is hoping by handing out lids for recycling containers will help.

You can pick one up at any recycling center.