Proposed changes to the state’s universal recycling regulations aim at improving recycling rates among businesses.
The universal recycling law was enacted in 2010. Jim Short of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Waste and Hazardous Substances Division said the law set up strong residential requirements, but was vague for commercial entities. As a result, the commercial sector has diverted significantly less recyclable materials away from landfills – about 36 percent versus 48 percent for residential recycling.
The state mandated a 50 percent diversion rate by 2015 and 60 percent by 2020. Although 2015's numbers are not yet available, Short said, he knows they will fall short of that goal. Overall diversion rates are estimated in the low 40s.
“We've got some work to do,” he said, noting over the last few years recycling levels have plateaued.
In addition to updating regulations, Short said, public education about recycling will also ramp up.
“I think a part of the problem is there’s not enough education on what is and what is not recyclable, and we need to do a better job of explaining that to the public at large,” he said.
Don Long, a planner with the Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances, said the sole intent of the proposed changes is to improve participation among Delaware's business community.
“In some cases, it's as simple as looking in your dumpster to see what you can divert,” Long said.
Long said DNREC provides free waste assessments, which are informal walkthroughs with business owners that offer information about logistics and equipment needed to establish an effective recycling program.
An assessment, he said, is often a great prerequisite for businesses that are planning to apply for a grant or low-interest loan offered by the Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances in order to setup a comprehensive recycling program.
The proposed regulations state that if a commercial entity has no recycling program or if a significant portion of recyclables end up in their waste stream, they are subject to enforcement and penalties.
Long said enforcement, to this point, has been reactive, not proactive. Enforcement usually occurs when noncompliance is reported to DNREC, he said.
Other proposed additions include requirements for yearly notification by waste service providers and property managers that recycling is available.
DNREC held informal public workshops on the proposed regulations in all three counties earlier this month. Officials will use feedback from the meetings to adjust the regulations before holding formal public hearings in October or November. For more information, go to www.dnrec.delaware.gov/dwhs.
• Trash bags and plastic bags are some of the biggest issues recycling facilities encounter. If recycling employees cannot see through a bag, it is taken off the belt and sent to the landfill. “There’s a safety issue with sharps or something that may injure them if they’re trying to open the bag,” Long said. “This belt is moving at 25 or 30 mph, and if they’re stopping to try to tear a bag open, there’s a good chance of injury.”
• Dumping is an ongoing problem at drop-off centers throughout the state. There are specified drop-off centers for electronics, batteries and motor oil; however, the items are left at all drop-off centers. In response to dumping and an overall reduced need, Short said, the number of drop-off centers throughout the state will be reduced.
• Educating the public on what items are recyclable remains a challenge. Long said the state has moved toward a more visual representation of recyclable materials on its posters and literature; however, for people looking for the numbers on cans, bottles and other items, Delaware accepts Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7.