Do Something

Let's incentivize recycling for real

Find out who your state and federal representatives are and reach out. If we’re going to take preserving our resources and protecting the environment seriously, we need legislative action. It works around the world, it can work here. 

Find out who represents you on the City Council and reach out to let them know you want the city to take action on our sad state of recycling and make it worth everyone’s while to participate in cleaning up the city. 

Here you can find instructions on how to sign up to comment on council meetings and how to speak at public hearings. You can review the agendas on the calendar here and watch meetings live here.

The official website for the Office of the Mayor provides basic information and a contact number, but you can also reach out using this form.


Read More

Ways to produce less waste

Don’t be a part of the problem, be part of the solution. 

What do you do if you need to dispose of bulk household trash like tires, Christmas trees, appliances, or yard waste? The city provides six sanitation centers where you can dispose of these items safely and at no cost. Here’s what you need to know about legally getting rid of bulk trash.

Whether you have residential or commercial questions about trash and recycling in Philly, here is your resource.

For a full list of composting companies in Philly (and resources for how to dispose of other types of waste — like cooking oil, electronics, and scrap wood—responsibly) check out CleanPHL’s zero waste guide.

Here is our guide to helping you stop throwing stuff away / buying new crap:

Get Involved

Engaged citizens strengthen democracy

One of the founding tenets of The Philadelphia Citizen is to get people the resources they need to become better, more engaged citizens of their city.

We hope to do that in our Good Citizenship Toolkit, which includes a host of ways to get involved in Philadelphia — whether you want to contact your City Councilmember about getting serious about recycling, get those experiencing homelessness the goods they need, or simply go out to dinner somewhere where you know your money is going toward a greater good.

Find an issue that’s important to you in the list below, and get started on your journey of A-plus citizenship.

Vote and strengthen democracy

Stand up for marginalized communities

Create a cleaner, greener Philadelphia

Help our local youth and schools succeed

Support local businesses

Ideas We Should Steal: Manufacturers Paying for Recyclable Waste

In California, Colorado and other states, Extended Producer Responsibility laws help fund recycling efforts in underserved communities. Could a similar rule improve Philadelphia's trash problem?

Ideas We Should Steal: Manufacturers Paying for Recyclable Waste

In California, Colorado and other states, Extended Producer Responsibility laws help fund recycling efforts in underserved communities. Could a similar rule improve Philadelphia's trash problem?

Recycling in the U.S. is broken. Seventy-four percent of Americans have access to recycling programs, yet just 43 percent of U.S. households recycle. Cities and states struggle to implement programs when it would be cheaper to make a new plastic bottle than recycle an old one, and 76 percent of recyclable waste ends up in a landfill anyway.

In Pennsylvania, we throw away 1.6 million tons of recyclable material each year, and only ten of the state’s 67 counties have curbside recycling programs in place. Ten. Towns and rural areas without curbside programs rely on dropoff sites — the state has 955 — but those programs aren’t always effective. Only 20 percent of PA households recycle, per a 2024 report from the nonprofit The Recycling Partnership. A lack of convenient access, confusion about what materials can and can’t be recycled, and the expense of running recycling centers all contribute to the lack of recycling in the state and nationwide.

“Huge swaths of the country don’t have recycling at all, or they have to contract separately with a hauler and find out where they can get recycling, or they have to haul their recycling somewhere away from their house,” says Dylan de Thomas, vice president of public policy and government affairs with the Washington, D.C.-based Recycling Partnership. “It’s not as convenient as throwing something away.”

To address these gaps and ensure more materials get recycled, governments need funding. And to get that funding, a handful of states have turned to a new solution: charging a fee directly to the manufacturers who create paper, plastic, cardboard and other recyclable waste.

A brief history of EPR

Charging manufacturers a fee for recycling materials is known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws. The idea comes from Swedish academic Thomas Lindhqvist. In the 1990s, he began advocating for the Swedish Ministry of the Environment to hold manufacturers responsible for their products. Soon after, Germany passed a law that charged manufacturers for producing packaging material they sold. Today, 25 of the EU’s 28 member states have EPR laws, as do India, Australia, Japan and Canada.

“Extended producer responsibility takes the financial burden off of the individuals and off the local jurisdictions and places it on to the producers who are sending those waste materials into our communities,” says Elizabeth Chapman, executive director of the nonprofit Recycle Colorado.

EPR laws can function in several different ways. Governments, either on the national or local level, determine what materials fall under the law. Then, the producers of those materials pay a fee if they continue using them in their products. A manufacturer of plastic takeout containers, for instance, might have to pay the fee, but one that eliminates plastic to-go wares in favor of compostable containers wouldn’t have to. Producers, as the laws define them, often include manufacturers, importers or sellers of products covered by the EPR legislation, so anyone who falls under that umbrella would have to pay the fee. Most EPR laws require producers to register with a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) to track how much companies are producing and to administer fees, with some EPR laws using a fixed rate system while others have variable fees based on the type of product and the amount produced.

In Pennsylvania, we throw away 1.6 million tons of recyclable material each year, and only ten of the state’s 67 counties have curbside recycling programs in place. Ten

The money collected from EPR fees is then either used by the government to improve recycling measures or administered by the PRO, which collects the money from the fees and funnels it into recycling projects through grants and other measures. EPR funds can be used to expand recycling services, support existing systems or introduce new technologies into the system.

Nic Esposito is the director of policy and engagement for the organization Circular Philadelphia and the city’s former Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet director. He remembers learning about how other countries were implementing EPR while at the 2019 C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen. After leaving his job with the city, he continued to travel and study EPR. In Tokyo, he saw a recycling truck that could collect bins of glass bottles to be washed and reused rather than crushed, exactly the kind of innovations EPR can help fund.

“I was like, how do they fund all this? And they’re like, oh, through EPR,” Esposito says. “They have crazy innovations, and they’re getting paid by the brands to do it.”

Bringing EPR to the U.S.

In Colorado, activists like Chapman began advocating for EPR laws in 2019. At the time, the organization was trying to figure out how to increase access to recycling. Only about 20 percent of rural households in the state have curbside recycling services, while multi-family properties in Colorado aren’t required to provide recycling access at all. EPR seemed like a good mechanism to increase recycling services.

“The reason we aren’t getting recycling to the rural parts of the state or to the multifamily complexes is cost,” Chapman says.

On the whole, EPR laws are uneven in America. A number of states already have laws mandating EPR for certain industries or products. Many states, Pennsylvania included, have EPR for electronics, for instance, but only four states — California, Colorado, Maine and Oregon — have passed EPR laws for commonly recycled plastic, paper and food packaging materials.

Though laws have been passed, no states have implemented their EPR programs yet, so the impact of such programs remains an open question in this country. Oregon plans to start enforcing its law in 2025; Maine, in 2026; California, in 2027. Still, one study by the Recycling Partnership that looked into EPR laws in British Columbia, Belgium, Spain, South Korea, and the Netherlands found that they increased the recycling of targeted materials to more than 75 percent.

Colorado’s EPR law will require companies that sell products in plastic packaging, paper products and disposable food containers to fund the state’s recycling program. To administer the program, the state has partnered with Circular Action Alliance (CAA), which worked with a third-party contractor to conduct an assessment evaluating Colorado’s recycling infrastructure. That study found that only between 22 and 28 percent of consumer packaging and paper products in the state were being recycled and recommended three different paths — a low-impact, a medium-impact and a high-impact version — for how EPR can increase recycling access in the state.

The plans are currently in a public comment period, with the goal of creating rules for implementing the full EPR program by July 1. Circular Action Alliance projects that the low-impact scenario could increase recycling rates for packaging materials to 32 to 38 percent by 2030, while the high-impact scenario would increase rates to 39 to 45 percent.

“That’s going to in turn make recyclables more profitable because there’s going to be a steadier stream, a more reliable stream. The engineers at these packaging companies are going to be able to design packaging that incorporates recycled content because there’s recycled content to be had,” Chapman says.

Bringing EPR to PA

Extended producer responsibility laws are often enacted at the state or federal level. Chapman says it’s not efficient or effective for cities to try to implement them themselves, but city officials can pressure state legislators to make EPR a priority.

Right now, Pennsylvania’s recycling system is funded through a $2-per-ton fee on all waste disposed of at municipal landfills and waste-to-energy facilities. The fee generates $48 million annually, which isn’t a lot when you consider how much it costs to run statewide recycling programs. Depending on a municipality’s recycling contractor, it can cost between $50 to more than $150 per ton to recycle waste. Colorado’s needs assessment found it produced approximately 310 kilotons of recyclable waste in 2022.

During Pennsylvania’s 2021-2022 state legislative session, Rep. Melissa Shusterman introduced an extended producer responsibility bill in response to increasing online shopping during the pandemic. The measure was never voted on.

Though there is energy around the issue on the state level, Esposito says, there is resistance to EPR at the local level. Critics are wary that state or federal legislation requiring EPR would interfere with municipal recycling laws. Some may worry that a state EPR policy might require cities or counties to adhere to similar rules around what can be recycled, or that funds might not be distributed equally.

Chapman, too, has seen resistance. When Recycle Colorado was advocating for EPR, many people expressed concerns that companies would just pass on the fees to consumers: “People say, ‘Oh, that’s going to make everything cost more,’” Chapman says. “‘My soda is going to cost $1 more. My Kraft macaroni and cheese is going to cost $1 more,’ — and the science and the data does not support that conclusion.” She points to studies of countries that have successfully implemented EPR for packaging, which have shown that it doesn’t significantly increase consumer costs.

One way to address concerns around EPR is through an extensive public engagement process. De Thomas points to the work done by Recycle Colorado, which engaged in an extensive outreach effort to community members and businesses that could be affected by the EPR legislation. Companies saw how it could help them meet their sustainability goals, while community members learned how it could support recycling without raising taxes or increasing product costs.

“We were part of a big coalition, including the companies themselves that are going to be paying to fund EPR, that supported that law,” de Thomas says. “I think it showed a lot of … companies that are paying these fees … why they should want to participate in the circular economy.”

No matter what happens at the state level, Esposito still sees opportunities for Philly to implement small-scale, EPR laws. Circular Philly has proposed single-use plastic legislation that advocates for imposing a fee on restaurants that use plastic to-go containers in order to encourage a shift to reusable containers. The money from the fees could then be invested in initiatives that help keep the city clean.

“It can fund more street cleaning because a lot of this stuff becomes litter. It can help us transition from single-use plastic to recyclable, compostable or reusable,” Esposito says. “That’s why it’s an EPR, because you’re basically saying to the people that don’t want to change, that want to give you the single-use item, that they’re contributing to the problem. So they’ve got to pay.”



Photo by Julio Lopez on Unsplash

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.