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Currently in Philadelphia, half of the recycling is burned and the other half is processed by Waste Management. (CC BY 2.0)

Philadelphia will stop burning half of its recycling by the end of April. 

As soon as this week, the city will sign a short-term contract with Waste Management to process Philadelphia’s recycling, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. As of now, half of the recycling is burned and the other half is processed by Waste Management. 

“The interim agreement in which we were forced into taking half our material to a waste energy facility will end by the end of this month,” Streets Department Commissioner Carlton Williams said at the department’s annual budget meeting on April 17. “We will be returning 100% of our material back to reprocessing at a material recovery facility.”

For years, Philadelphia and other U.S. cities sent a large portion of their recycling to China to be processed. But in January 2018, China stopped accepting almost all imports intended for reuse, citing a need to focus on its own waste. 

In response, Philadelphia began sending half of its recycling to Waste Management to be processed for $78 a ton, while the rest went to Covanta’s waste-to-energy plant in Chester, Pennsylvania, where it is incinerated. 

China will only accept imports that are less than 0.5% contaminated. Contaminated recycling can mean a pizza box with grease on it or a piece of un-recyclable plastic mixed in with recyclable materials. An average load of recycling from Philadelphia is 15 to 20% contaminated, the Inquirer reported.

Following China’s ban, Philadelphia’s recycling contractor at the time, Republic Services, offered to process the city’s recycling for $170 a ton, a stark increase from the 2012, when the city paid $67 a ton. 

Under the new contract, the city will likely pay Waste Management $90 to $92 a ton, Scott McGrath, the city’s environmental planner, told the Inquirer. 

The city hopes to sign a longer-term contract by July 1.