A new study commissioned for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management shows more recycling could spur economic growth in the state. In 2019, only 19 percent of the state’s waste was recycled.
Though the report has several suggestions of how Indiana can reach its goal of a 50 percent recycling rate, it's unclear which of those recommendations will be put into action.
Bruce Burrow works for Rumpke Waste and Recycling and is a long-time member of the state’s Recycling Market Development Board. He said when China stopped importing recycling from the U.S. in 2017, that may have been a blessing in disguise.
“We have more investment now in new mills than we've ever had and we have more investment in material recoveries than we've ever had. And it's truly a very exciting time in the recycling world," Burrow said.
Among other things, the report recommends increasing the fee to dispose of trash in landfills or "tipping fee," a composting program, and providing curbside service for Indianapolis residents that doesn’t require a subscription.
Allyson Mitchell is the executive director of the Indiana Recycling Coalition. She said Indiana’s very low tipping fee gives less incentive for Hoosiers to recycle and encourages other states to throw their trash away here — which also sends more pollution into the air through the state’s incinerators.
“All of the liability that comes from solid waste management, we shoulder that for other states because it's cheaper. And so therefore — they export it, we import it," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said increasing the tipping fee would incentivize recycling and generate more money for other recycling efforts. But Burrow isn't as keen on the idea.
"Changing the tipping fee may give individuals a false sense of value or commitment. To have an engaged recycling community, people have to understand that recycling is not free — there is a charge for it. And to do it properly, cost has to be covered," Burrow said. "Just increasing the tipping fee and covering that cost is just another tax that's distributed amongst all of the contributors that ship waste into the landfills that we have. I would prefer to see the buy in of people actually knowing what they're paying for their recycling service and embracing that."
The Recycling Market Development Board plans to take the next several months to look further into recommendations in the study.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.