Increasing Delaware's recycling rate an ongoing effort

By Paul Ploumis

DOVER - There’s progress to be made if recycling rates in Delaware are to meet standards established by law in 2010.

The General Assembly enacted the state’s Universal Recycling Law with the reportedly “ambitious” goal of recycling 60% of municipal solid waste by 2020.

In its annual report released in November 2022, Recycling Public Advisory Council reported that the number stood at 37.2% in 2021.

The council noted that “Even though Delaware has not achieved the goals established in the legislation, a comprehensive statewide system has been developed to reduce the burden on our landfills and provide raw materials to the market through our diversion activities.”

Regarding the percentage aim set more than a decade ago, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Recycling Program Manager Adam Schlachter said that “The goal was interim in nature and not statutorily required when the Universal Recycling Law was enacted.

“That said, DNREC is consistently assessing what we can do to get to that goal.”

Mr. Schlachter added that since the time the interim goal originated, Delaware had a growing interest in composting of food waste, which is one area that would have given a boost to diversion efforts.

When it comes to progress, Delaware Solid Waste Authority spokesperson Michael Parkowski said that “Since 2015 Delaware’s recycling rate has fluctuated between 42 and 37 percent, which is above the Environmental Protection Agency’s cited national average of 32 percent, there are many factors that cause fluctuation in recycling rates.

“The reduction of commercial recycling, the overall economy, the effect of COVID on the overall waste stream and many others. The reality is we won’t reach these high goals unless we can find a way to reduce the amount of food waste going to landfills.”

Mr. Parkowski who serves as the Authority’s Chief of Business and Governmental Services continued on, saying, “DSWA is working with many organizations throughout Delaware to find ways to reduce and divert food waste from our landfills. We hope these efforts will lead to higher recycling rates for Delaware.”

The report also noted that “Delaware has made significant strides in the diversion of waste to new uses and in the reduction in the amount of waste sent to Delaware’s landfills since 2006."

Predictably, the report said, “Due to COVID, the recycling rate for 2021 was still less than the 2019 pre-COVID rate. This is mainly due to a drop in the commercial recycling sector, as many people continue to work from home.

“There were also a few issues with haulers not having enough staff to collect yard waste. The amount of material sent to the landfills also increased for the tenth year in a row. Much of the increase in waste can be attributed to growth in population and economic development within the State.

There’s no credible way to measure of Delaware stacks up with other states either, since the “methodology is not consistent across all states and the reality is that pretty much every state measures their recycling differently,” Mr. Schlachter said.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control regulates all of the solid waste facilities that the Delaware Solid Waste Authority operates except those that are exempt such as recycling center.

No state money is directly expended for recycling and the Authority generates its revenue fees through avenues such as commercial and municipal waste pickup.

Additionally, Mr. Schlachter said, “DNREC often partners with DSWA on outreach and education efforts centering on recycling, waste reduction and other waste-related issues.”

Recycling is a boost to the state on many fronts, Mr. Schlachter said.

“The diversion of waste from disposal in our landfills has a variety of benefits for Delawareans,” he said. “The first one being it conserves landfill space , which is expensive to build and hard to site.

“Secondly, recycling provides significant greenhouse gas reductions when compared to using non-recycled feedstocks (original materials) in manufacturing.”

According to Mr. Schlachter, using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste and Recycling Model to calculate sustainability savings, Delaware’s 2021 diversion activities helped reduce emissions into the atmosphere equal to removing over 176,000 vehicles from roadways.

“The final benefit of recycling, which is often understated, is that it can be a boon for the State’s economy,” he said.

Using the Environmental Protection Agency mode, Mr. Schlachter said, “it was calculated that recycling activities added $67million in wages to our economy in 2021.
“Between landfill conservation, greenhouse gas reductions and economic growth, recycling is a healthy asset for Delaware’s economy.”

The market for packaged recycled materials for sale to commercial entities consistently fluctuates, Mr. Parkowski said,

Currently, he said, “The market is not the best it has ever been.”

However, “It’s certainly not the worst it’s ever been,” Mr. Parkowski said.

“It’s a pretty average market right now. We are getting paid for everything except glass, which is good.

“It’s kind of like the stock market. Prices can fluctuate for all sorts of reasons.”

The most received recyclable material is paper and “it’s the thing that fluctuates the most.”

Cardboard prices usually spike in October due to a need for packaging and then drops by February, Mr. Parkowski said.

Predictably, Mr Parkowski said, the volume of recyclables and trash overall rises significantly in the summer when thousands of out of state visitors arrive at the beaches in Sussex County.

Thanks to the “state of the art” Materials Recovery Facility in New Castle, Mr. Schlachter said, “We have very high quality recycling being bought from that Delaware’s facility so where others have had issues selling material, Delaware has not.

However, he said, “Just because we have the technology to sort doesn’t mean we don’t want a cleaner recycling stream coming into the plant. Like other states, we have an issue with contamination (non-recyclable items in the recycling stream) which can present issues within the plant.”

Then there’s from around Thanksgiving to Jan. 1 when the total volume increases around 5% to 6%. The system is structured to handle the added influx, Mr. Parkowski said.

According to the report, the Materials Recovery Facility processes about 115,546 tons of recyclables per year and Mr. Parkowski said it has a capacity of roughly 120,000 tons.

Recycling success also requires a buy-in from the public, and Mr. Schlachter said citizens are making positive contributions in what can be a head-scratching program at times. .

“While DNREC credits most of our residents with their enthusiasm to participate in the recycling program, we also acknowledge that there may be confusion around what can and cannot be recycled (especially for newcomers to Delaware) and that can impact our overall recycling success,” he said.

Count Dover resident Charles Spiering as a Delawarean who believes in the state’s system.

As he moved briskly to and from his truck while unloading styrofoam into a container on Tuesday, Mr. Spiering gave a figurative thumbs up for Delaware’s recycling program.

“From what I can see, the state does pretty well,” he said. “There’s places to get rid of your batteries, your motor oil. Mr. Spiering spoke from the Cheswold Collection Station, where he visits once or twice a month for dropoffs.

“This place is a lifesaver,” he said. “I hate going all the way to the Sandtown Dump (in Felton) to get rid of this stuff so this is a real life saver for me.”

Count Mr. Spiering as a believer in the immense importance of recycling.

“It’s important to take the stuff out of the system, the water table, the land that’s getting trashy,” he said.

“It’s terrible the amount of time that farmers have to spend picking bottles up out of their fields. They didn’t used to have to do that and the land was cleared by it’s not like that anymore.”

On the road where his residence sits, “it’s like a deposit ground,” Mr. Spiering said

“ Everyone goes to Wawa and McDonald’s and then they go in front of my place and throw their cups and bottles out the window.”

Delaware law requires every waste hauler in the state is required to provide their customers with instructions on how to participate in the Universal Recycling program,” Mr. Schlachter said.

“The haulers do this in a variety of ways, from including a flyer in their customers’ bill to a refrigerator magnet for customers with details or just a link to an online resource.

“Some of the haulers have now started to put weather-proof adhesive stickers on the tops of recycling carts outlining what materials can be recycled and how to do it (for example, advising no bagged material).”

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control also participates in outreach opportunities throughout the year (such as the Delaware State Fair, the University of Delaware’s Coast Day), Mr. Schlachter said.

The Department also participates in other events that may be more focused on recycling (such as Earth Day events, America Recycles Day, etc.).

“ Everyone goes to Wawa and McDonald’s and then they go in front of my place and throw their cups and bottles out the window.”

Recycling centers in Kent and Sussex counties include:

• Cheswold Collection Station, 54 Fork Branch Road, Cheswold. Open 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

• Delaware Solid Waste Authority, 1128 S. Bradford Street, Dover. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

• Sandhill Landfill, 1107 Willow Grove Road, Felton. Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

• Milford Transfer Station, 1170 S. DuPont Highway, Milford. Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

• Bridgeville Collection Station, 16539 Polk Road, Bridgeville. Open 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

• Ellendale Collection Station, 3870 S. Old State Road, Ellendale. Open 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

• Jones Crossroads Landfill Recycling Center, 28560 Landfill Lane, Georgetown. Open 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

• Route 5 Transfer Station, 29997 John P. Healy Drive, Harbeson. Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday

• Long Neck Collection Station, 28963 Mount Joy Road, Millsboro. Open 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m Monday through Saturday.

• Omar Collection Station, 33086 Burton Farm Road, Frankford. Open 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Information on recycling practices can be found online at de.gov/recyclopedia.

The Recycling Public Advisory Council can be contacted via email at recycle@delaware.gov or visit dnrec.alpha.delaware.gov.

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