Act 101 of 1988

The Municipal Waste Planning, Recycling and Waste Reduction Act
What Inspired Act 101

Act 101 was created to meet several parallel challenges facing Pennsylvania’s waste management system in the mid 1980’s. In 1984 the United States Congress enacted amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. These amendments set a new standard for the management of solid waste including new design and operating criteria for landfills. These new standards altered the solid waste system across the country by effectively forcing the closure of thousands of landfills which could not meet the new environmental protection goals. New rules included liner systems, set back from water ways and long term care requirements. As hundreds of landfills in PA were set to close, concern that there was a rapidly impending Landfill Capacity Crisis took hold. Fears of insufficient landfill capacity are at the very heart of Act 101…Pennsylvania needed to protect a scarce resource, the landfill.

Act 101 established several complimentary programs to avoid the looming crisis including a highly progressive strategy to build a robust recycling infrastructure across PA. The law requires; county level planning for solid waste, mandatory recycling service for the most populous towns and cities and alternatives to landfill disposal of leaf waste. The Act also provided a funding stream to support compliance from the counties, townships, boroughs and cities it targets.

The following sections look at several of the key features of Act 101 and how they influence recycling today. Please note that the Act omits even numbered chapters.

The complete text of Act 101 can be found at this link Act 101 of 1988.

Chapter 5: Waste Planning

Prior to Act 101, municipalities were obligated by state law to ensure they had access to a sufficient capacity of waste related infrastructure to meet the needs of their residents. In its preamble, Act 101 states:

“Needed additional municipal waste processing and disposal facilities have not been developed in a timely manner because of diffused responsibility for municipal waste planning, processing and disposal among numerous and overlapping units of local government…It is necessary to give counties the primary responsibility to plan for the processing and disposal of municipal waste generated within their boundaries to insure the timely development of needed processing and disposal facilities.”

Act 101 mandates this transfer of responsibility from  municipalities to the counties. The Act also established new standards for this planning obligation which are spelled out in section 502

  • Description of waste
  • Description of waste related facilities
  • Estimates of future capacity requirements
  • Description of recyclable materials
  • Financial impact of facilities deemed necessary by the Plan and sources of funding
  • Plans must be updated every 10 years

Chapter 7: Recycling Fee

Act 101 found a way to support the many new “unfunded mandates” it contained with a novel new “recycling fee”. The fee is more appropriately called a “landfill fee” as it assesses a $2.00 per ton surcharge on every ton of municipal solid waste disposed of in PA. The fee excludes industrial waste as well as waste materials generated at recycling facilities.

Chapter 7 also set a new standard that all waste must be weighed as the basis of measurement rather than the tradition of measuring solid waste in terms of volume. While landfills traditional operate in terms of cubic yards of capacity, a weight based system allows for more accurate comparison and analysis.

Chapter 7 also includes what has become a central challenge of Act 101, a “Sunset Provision” on the fee. This sunset was designed under the assumption that once a new recycling infrastructure was up and running in the state further financial support would become unnecessary. The first sunset was set for 1997, extended to 2003, 2009, 2012 and then again until 2020. In 2017 the PA Senate unanimously passed an amendment which would remove the sunset provision and make the fee permanent. This effort was blocked in the PA House of Representatives by an amendment which calls for just a one year extension.

Chapter 9: Grants

With the Recycling Fee established, Act 101 sets out a strategy to use these funds to support the development of recycling services and infrastructure across the state. The Act created 4 specific grant programs each targeting a specific purpose and set of incentives. The grant programs are:

  • 901 – Planning Grants. This program directly fund “80% of the approved cost” of complying with the planning requirements of Act 101.
  • 902 – Grants for the development and implementation of municipal recycling programs. 902 grants support equipment, education and to develop markets for recycling.
  • 903 – Grants for recycling coordinators. These grants reimburse 1/2 of the salary and expense costs of employing a Recycling Coordinator.
  • 904 – Performance Grants for municipal recycling programs. 904 grants act as a bounty on recycling with the state offering a set dollar amount per ton of recycling which is collected and marketed from within a municipalities boundaries.

Chapter 11: Assistance to Municipalities

Chapter 11 provides for support and resources to Pennsylvania’s Townships, Boroughs, Cities and Counties to defend their communities from the potential negative environmental impacts of waste disposal facilities. These provisions include:

  • Information sharing requirements which ensure the State will provide communities with all information related to facility permits including regulatory actions, permit conditions and environmental monitoring.
  • Facility inspection support such as training of local inspectors and a mechanism for host communities to notify the State of potential violations.
  • Water quality protections including mandatory well testing for adjacent properties and remediation requirements should any water be impaired by the activities at the waste disposal facility.
  • Provisions for the sale of electricity generated by waste disposal facilities to public utilities.
  • Financial assurance and Post Closure Care cost requirements
    • To cover costs of any physical impacts of waste disposal facility (injuries or damages caused by release of pollutants)
    • Mandate for a $0.25 per ton fee to accrue in a trust to cover costs of closure and/or post closure care of privately owned solid waste disposal facilities
  • Funding for third party reviews of all solid waste disposal facility permit applications.
  • Landfill capacity requirements assuring communities have access to disposal.
  • Provision for placing caps on maximum daily volume received at disposal facilities

Chapter 13: Host Municipality Benefit Fee

Act 101 provides a direct financial benefit to communities who are home to solid waste disposal facilities in the form a mandated $1.00 per ton fee paid by the facility to the community. This chapter also establishes clear rules for the payment of this fee and specifically allows for additional fees to be assessed on waste by County’s provided the fee is agreed to by the facility.

There are no requirements or restrictions, however, for how the accumulated fees can be spent by the host municipality or county.

Chapter 15: Recycling and Waste Reduction

Beyond the financial elements of Act 101, Chapter 15 is often the most well known feature of the law. This chapter sets the standards by which local recycling programs must operate and identifies those communities where recycling is mandatory. The central tenets of this chapter are described below:

  • Any community with a population greater that 10,000 residents must provide recycling service
  • A community with between 5,000 and 10,000 residents AND which has a population density of more than 300 residents per square mile must provide recycling service

Communities meeting the above standard, mandated communities, are required by Act 101 to adopt ordinances which further mandate the following:

  • An ordinance which requires residents to recycle three materials types from a menu defined as: clear glass, colored glass, aluminum, steel and bimetallic cans, high-grade office paper, newsprint, corrugated paper and plastics.
  • An ordinance requiring the separation of leaf and yard waste for recycling
  • An ordinance requiring commercial and institutional establishments to recycle high-grade office paper, aluminum, corrugated paper and leaf waste.
  • Provisions to ensure compliance including incentives and penalties

Beyond the ordinance mandates, this section established clear provisions to ensure convenient access to a collection system (once per month collection at curbside or equivalent) is provided by the mandated community. The act further requires communities to provide educational notices to all impacted users at least a biannual basis.

Other provisions of this chapter include:

  • All waste disposal facilities must offer a recycling drop off service
  • State government must establish a recycling and waste reduction program for all state agencies and those agencies related to land management must utilize compost when practical.
  • Procurement standards for recycled content products including a 5% price advantage for products made from recycled materials.
  • Ban on disposal of lead acid batteries and requirements for sellers of these batteries to offer recycling service.