Recycling goes back to basics as recyclers limit the items they'll accept

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
Penn Waste recycling center sorter Robert Pullo Jr., center, pulls items from a conveyor at the Manchester Township facility Friday, March 25, 2016. For the safety of sorters, Penn Waste is urging customers to contain medical waste items like needles and dispose of them in their regular trash. Bill Kalina photo
  • “Theoretically, sure, it’s plastic, but it can’t be reconstituted into a new viable product,” York County Solid Waste Authority Manager Ellen O’Connor emphasized.

“Keep your arms and legs inside the ride,” York County Solid Waste Authority Manager Ellen O’Connor joked when talking about the recycling market.

China's move earlier this year to change the recyclable items it accepts will impact decades of learned recycling cues here in the United States, O’Connor said. The world's largest buyer of recyclable goods also limited contamination allowed from 5 percent to 0.05 percent, she said.

Instead of tossing any plastic item, paper product or container into a recycling bin, known as “wishful recycling,” it’s "back to basics," O’Connor explained.

Beginning Sept. 10, the authority will only accept aluminum, steel and bi-metal cans and corrugated cardboard for recycling at its recycling drop-off facility on Blackthorne Court in Manchester Township, according to its website,

Recycling has been embraced as an environmentally conscious act, but the new reality of accepted items is going to undo what a large part of the population has adopted as recyclable, O'Connor said. 

More:Chinese restrictions send some U.S. recycling to landfills

“It’s going to be a little bumpy for quite a while,” she said.

Penn Waste: According to York-based Penn Waste, items that will not be  accepted include:             

  • food-soiled materials
  • needles and medical waste
  • broken glass
  • windows, mirrors, ceramics
  • drinking glasses
  • aluminum foil
  • scrap metal
  • plastic tableware (knives, forks, etc.)
  • plastic bags (including grocery bags)
  • light bulbs
  • solvents, oil and/or chemical containers
  • soaked and/or wet papers or cardboard
  • waxy cardboard
  • plastic food wrappers
  • used paper towels or tissues
  • Christmas lights
  • hoses
  • propane tanks
  • mixed papers, "junk mail," or office paper

The trash-hauling company, owned by Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, recently released a statement that noted the shift has caused them to “impose a sustainability fee on” their commercial customers.

The fee was instituted in June “in response to the recycling markets collapsing, the ongoing skilled labor crisis, rising insurance costs and rising steel prices,” reported General Manager Ed Ward.

“Our customers were notified in advance and given the opportunity to contact us with any concerns,” Ward wrote.

Friday, March 25, 2016--Penn Waste recycling center sorters, who sort by hand, are put in danger when used syringes are placed in recycling. Penn Waste is urging customers to contain medical waste, like dirty needles, and dispose of it in their regular trash. Bill Kalina photo

An earlier reported statement that Penn Waste wanted to renegotiate existing municipal contracts was “completely false,” Ward wrote, referencing news articles.

More:Wagner's Penn Waste attempts to renegotiate contracts

“Penn Waste has not approached any existing municipal customers about renegotiating their contracts and we do not have plans of doing so,” he said. “The statement regarding our municipal contracts made by our spokeswoman back in May was an idea that had been floated when the initial recycling markets collapsed. While that idea had been proposed, it never went into effect.”

O’Connor, who is a Penn Waste customer, said personally she hasn’t received any letters in the mail about recycling changes. Penn Waste could not be reached for comment.

Next step: As everyone is trying to figure out how to create an “end use” product, meaning reusing items no longer shipped to China for another purpose, O’Connor speculated trash fees might go up to handle hauling increased waste.

Items such as plastic food wrappers or plastic bags “have different chemical components, and there is no end user who can use it again,” O’Connor explained.

Scientists and entrepreneurs worldwide are working on the next uses of items that can no longer be accepted as recyclable, O’ Connor said.

“Theoretically, sure, it’s plastic, but it can’t be reconstituted into a new viable product,” O’Connor emphasized.  

Look it up: According to the York County Solid Waste Authority’s website, residents should educate themselves on what their waste haulers now accept. Another pro tip is to make sure that wet, non-recyclable items are disposed of in the garbage, the website reports.

Starting Sept. 10, the York County Solid Waste Authority is changing its hours and limiting the types of materials that people can drop off, O’Connor confirmed.

More:York County Solid Waste Authority to change hours, update acceptable materials

Residents can drop off recycling from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at the recycling drop-off center, 2685 Blackthorne Court, according to the authority's website.

Only aluminum, steel and bi-metal cans and corrugated cardboard will be accepted after Sept. 8, the authority explains. 

Items that waste haulers are going to accept for curbside recycling are:


• Clear, blue, brown and green glass food & beverage containers


• Aluminum beverage cans
• Steel and bi-metal food and beverage cans


• Plastic containers Nos. 1, 2 and 5 with a neck

Cardboard, newspaper and cartons:

• All sizes of cardboard boxes, dry and flattened.

• Shelf-stable and refrigerated food and beverage cartons (rinse cartons and remove and dispose of caps).

• Newspapers.

Clothing and shoes:

Clean clothing and shoes are accepted in the Salvation Army drop-off bin at the recycling drop-off facility.