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FOX43 Reveals: Recycling Realities

SOUTH CENTRAL Pa.—Recycling operations in Pennsylvania are in jeopardy. Materials that have not been properly cleaned out and trash are contaminating the recycl...

SOUTH CENTRAL Pa.—Recycling operations in Pennsylvania are in jeopardy. Materials that have not been properly cleaned out and trash are contaminating the recycling stream, costing taxpayers more money and sending more recycled items to the landfill.

The Department of Environmental Protection plans to go through our trash to see what we are recycling and what we should be throwing out.  If you haven’t looked at recycling beyond taking out your blue bin, FOX43 Reveals a glimpse of what happens after the truck picks it up.

To get a close look, FOX43 Reveals dumpster dives at Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority (LCSWMA).

“If you look inside of the drop off, you’ll see an issue that we’re really struggling with, which is contamination,” explained Kathryn Sandoe, chief commercial officer at LCSWMA. “Single-use plastic containers are a real problem. This is not meant to be recycled like the rest of the materials.”

At LCSWMA, they only want to see the “Big 4” in your blue bin: corrugated cardboard, metal food and drink cans, plastic bottles and jugs with a neck, and glass bottles and jars.

What people are actually dumping, you have to see to believe.

“The last two years, around 30 percent of what’s in the recycling bin is actually trash,” said Sandoe.

Contamination rates are skyrocketing. Much of what is properly cleaned and recycled ends up in the landfill or incinerator. The cost to clean up falls back on taxpayers. FOX43 Reveals the State Department of Environmental Protection is hiring people to sift through your trash to develop a targeted recycling program.

“To help us understand what people are throwing out, what they’re recycling to kind of document it, then from there, taking that information we’ll be able to provide better education for both municipalities and consumers alike,” explained Beth Rementer, press secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection.

The statewide program is expected to last two years. It will audit 12 waste facilities and up to 12 recycling centers. The driving factor in a successful recycling program is economics.

“Recycling in Pennsylvania is a $30 billion industry in terms of sales. In terms of labor, it’s a $4.8 billion industry,” said Rementer. “So it’s not only great for the environment, but it’s good for our economy because it’s good, family-sustaining Pennsylvania jobs.”

Returning to the early days of “source-separated” recycling is one way to save the industry from collapse. Keith Kepler is director at the Dauphin County Solid Waste Management and Recycling Center in Harrisburg. The center is a place where people can drop off paper, plastic, cardboard, and electronics. In fact, last year the center recycled 2.4 million pounds worth of old electronics.

KEITH KEPLER: We are definitely fortunate to have the county commissioners we have because they support this program.

RACHEL YONKUNAS: And this is exclusive to people who live in dauphin county?

KEITH KEPLER: That’s correct.

That’s part of the challenge—educating people on where they can recycle certain materials and what to toss out. No two municipalities appear to have the same recycling guidelines.

“They get pizza boxes at these recovery facilities that still have pizza in it! Stop that,” expressed Kepler. “If you really want to help do your recycling better, make sure your stuff is clean.”

Until the state can sort through the rubbish, contamination remains a thorn in the side for most recycling centers.

“We put all kinds of stuff in our recycling bin hoping that it will be turned into something new,” said Sandoe. “But the reality is, that there is a market for materials so not everything in your recycling bin can be recycled.”

Many municipalities have different recycling guidelines, which just adds to the confusion. Most recycling centers do not take paperboard like cereal boxes and paper towel rolls. Those items require consumers to visit a drop-off location.

An easy way to discover what your local curbside recycling program accepts is by using Earth911. Type in the material you want to recycle with your zip code and it will produce a number of nearby drop-off locations if the material is not accepted by your municipal’s curbside recycling program.

York County Solid Waste Management Authority’s Public Recycling Drop-off Center for York County residents and commercial entities.


  • Metal (Rinse thoroughly to ensure they are free of contaminants and residue. It is not necessary to remove labels.)
  • Aluminum beverage cans
  • Steel and bi-metal food & beverage cans
  • Corrugated cardboard (dry and flattened boxes)
  • Clean clothing and shoes are accepted in the Salvation Army drop-off bin. If you have furniture, appliances, or any other items for the Salvation Army, contact the Salvation Army directly for information on donating these items


  • Paperboard (no cereal boxes, shoe boxes, tissue boxes, or paper towel/toilet paper rolls)
  • Office paper or “mixed paper” (junk mail, envelopes, letterhead, copier paper, magazines, catalogues, and post cards)
  • Newspaper
  • Aerosol cans, paint cans
  • Plastic or glass containers
  • Pizza boxes

Penn Waste, Inc. Recycling Guidelines


  • Cans (aluminum & steel)
  • Plastic (bottles & jugs 1, 2, & 5)
  • Newspaper (dry & clean, no food contact)
  • Glass (bottles & jars)
  • Cardboard (dry & flattened, no food contact)
  • Cartons


  • Plastic Bags
  • Paperboard (no cereal boxes, shoe boxes, tissue boxes, or paper towel/toilet paper rolls)
  • Shredded paper
  • Clothing
  • Medical Waste
  • Scrap metal
  • Styrofoam

FOX43 Reveals issues that affect you and your family to keep you informed. Do you have a tip that needs to be investigated? Or documents we should dig into? Send me a confidential news tip at FOX43Reveals@fox43.com.