Schwank bill would keep cities' ability to charge recycling fees

State Senator Judy Schwank said on Feb. 11 she will introduce legislation to preserve the authority of communities to use local fees to support their recycling programs.

“For over two decades nobody questioned whether municipalities have that ability,” the Berks County Democrat said. “My bill would make very clear that is in fact the case.”

In October, Commonwealth Court ruled that the state’s Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling Waste Reduction law, Act 101 of 1988, required Reading to discontinue its monthly recycling fee, raising concerns statewide that such fees are illegal.

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The decision later became moot when it was learned it had been entered after the man who challenged the Reading ordinance had filed for bankruptcy protection, stripping the court of authority in the case. It has nonetheless stirred concerns that a similar suit against Reading or another municipality could lead to a similar ruling.

Until the court’s decision, Reading had been assessing the fee for two decades, and it covered about 90 percent of the city’s annual $2.7 million recycling budget.

“Recycling has proved its value to the community,” Schwank (D-Berks) said today. “The court’s decision was a shock, since places like Reading have depended on the fees for years. The court said they have to rely on state grants and proceeds from marketing the recycled materials, and that just is not realistic to cover the costs of recycling programs.

“While the court noted municipalities are excused from the state’s requirements to recycle where funding is insufficient, officials across Pennsylvania believe the loss of fee authority likely would end or severely cripple municipal recycling,” Schwank said. “My bill would make clear that the law does permit local fees for recycling.”

Act 101 requires municipalities of at least 10,000 to operate curbside recycling programs. Grants are available to help offset costs, but they are typically insufficient to cover all of a community’s expenses as they relate to waste reduction efforts.

Berks County recycled a total of 228,000 tons of material in 2009, the most recent statistics available from the Department of Environmental Protection’s Act 101 website.

Berks County’s total was the sixth largest amount of recycled material in the state (behind Philadelphia County, 1.2 million tons; Allegheny County, 470,000 tons; Lehigh County, 262,000 tons; Montgomery County, 252,000 tons; and Beaver County, 250,000 tons).

State grants are available to help municipalities prepare recycling and waste management plans, start recycling programs, pay for recycling program coordinators and inspectors, and to collect household hazardous waste.

From State Senator Judy Schwank.