The State We’re In: Want Lower Taxes? Recycle More!

Michele S. Byers

by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

If you’re concerned about our high cost of living – read on! There’s one simple thing we can all do to help our towns and ourselves save money: Recycle more.

New Jersey is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its mandatory recycling law – the nation’s first – and is re-energizing the recycling movement by emphasizing that “going green” can save greenbacks while helping the environment.

The state’s goal is to raise our recycling rate to 50 percent, meaning that at least half of the stuff we throw away doesn’t end up in landfills or incinerators.

Right now, the numbers are less than stellar. Only 16 percent of the state’s municipalities have met the 50 percent goal. A third of our towns recycle less than 25 percent of their trash.

“People are not recycling the way they should,” says Assemblywoman Grace Spencer, chair of the Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste Committee, who wants to find ways to make recycling easier and more consistent from county to county.

Although the state hasn’t hit its recycling goal, the trend seems to be moving in the right direction. Between 2009 and 2010 (the most recent year for which figures are available), New Jersey’s overall recycling rate climbed from 37 to 40 percent for municipal trash.

That translates into real savings for taxpayers, through cost avoidance and sales of recyclable materials.

Here’s how it works: In 2010 an extra 364,000 tons of metal, glass, plastic, paper and cardboard were NOT sent to landfills or incinerators. That resulted in $26 million in savings from avoided disposal costs. At the same time, the recyclables were sold for $45.5 million, adding up to a total savings of $71.5 million.

To reach the state’s 50 percent recycling goal, another 1.1 million tons must be recycled each year. It’s a challenge, but achievable. Other states have done it, and New Jersey can, too.

You can do your town, yourself and the environment a favor by recycling everything you can. In the 25 years since the mandatory recycling law was signed by Governor Thomas Kean, it’s gotten much easier.

Back in 1987, most households were made to separate metals from glass, and further separate glass by color. Today, in contrast, many of us have the convenience of “single stream” recycling … that is, we can toss all glass, plastic and metals into one container. In addition to newspapers and magazines, most junk mail and office paper can also be recycled.

But, as Spencer noted, there are inconsistencies that pose a challenge. “Why is it that a yogurt container accepted (for recycling) in Essex County isn’t accepted in Ocean County?” she asked.

The state, Spencer added, must also make it easier to recycle old clothing and electronics, safely dispose of long-lasting light bulbs that shouldn’t go in the trash, and compost food waste.

To find out just about everything you need to know about recycling, go to the state’s website at

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at

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