Philadelphia's aggressive recycling campaign has quadrupled residential recycling rates over the past five years. But in the same period, commercial recycling rates have remained stagnant.

 

In 1987, when the city launched the first mandatory recycling program in the nation, it set a lofty goal: Half of commercial waste should be recycled by 2010. As of 2009, the most recent data available, the rate had been hovering around 35 to 40 percent for years—still double residential rates, but not growing.

 

Mark Allan, the manager at Han Dynasty, an Old City restaurant, said he had no idea recycling was required.

"We recycle our cooking oil," Allan said. "All of our oil gets recycled (but) no plastic, nothing else, everything else just gets thrown out."

Though many other restaurants and bars in the area do recycle, many managers did not know it was required. Owners are supposed to submit a one-page recycling plan to the city and post it in their businesses. But the only way city officials know if those businesses have a plan, or are sticking to it, is if they make a site visit and rummage through the trash.

Philadelphia Recycling Coordinator David Biddle said enforcement and ticketing efforts over the past few years have been focusing on homes. In the next six months, though, officers will be increasing visits to businesses.

"The impetus for our work is to just go out there and remind people, yeah, you need to do this, it's not hard at all," Biddle said. "We know you can make money if you're willing to be as competitive with the waste industry as you are with your suppliers."

Commercial waste makes up about 60 percent of the city's waste stream.

Biddle said with raw materials fetching higher prices now than they were during the recession, and with new single-stream recycling options for businesses making it easier to recycle, recycling more is a win-win situation.


Your thoughts: Does your workplace participate in a recycling program? Do you think it's effective? How can businesses increase the amount of materials turned over to recycling centers?