Commemorating 30 Years of Recycling in New Jersey

Apr 26, 2017

In April 1987, Gov. Tom Kean signed a law mandating that all New Jersey residents separate recyclable materials such as glass, aluminum cans and newspapers from their household trash. The legislation aimed to save space in overloaded landfills, cut garbage disposal costs and help conserve natural resources, as a New York Times article from that year explained.

The article quoted one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican Assemblyman Arthur Albohn, now deceased, who noted, “It’s a major step forward toward solving the solid waste problems of the state of New Jersey.”

Three decades later, at a ceremony held earlier this month, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin helped celebrate the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the law, addressing an overflow crowd at the Association of New Jersey Recyclers’ spring meeting at the Rutgers Eco-Complex in Burlington County.

“Taking a bow (at the event) for his role in recycling was former legislator Paul Contillo, who sponsored the Recycling Act in the state Senate,” said ANJR. Contillo’s daughter, Angela Andersen – sustainability coordinator for Long Beach Township –“also addressed her recycling colleagues, encouraging them to continue to build on the recycling foundation established by many others, including her father.”

Kean, as well as Mary Sheil, a driving force behind recycling in its early years, sent words of congratulations to all those gathered at the celebration.

“My dad was beaming,” said Angela, who also sits on the ANJR board. “He is pleased with the success of recycling in New Jersey over the past 30 years, and that ANJR and DEP are focusing on producer responsibility on products and packaging.

“What’s inspiring to me is the bipartisan effort that this was, and continues to be. It makes sense ecologically and economically, with an added community benefit.”

Although some people aren’t aware it’s mandatory to recycle in the state, she added, “we are far superior than the national average, at about 62 percent recycling rate of total waste stream, versus the national average of about 37 percent. That’s mostly because the residents get it. The tougher nuts are, for example, schools, stores and commercial buildings.”

As the commissioner explained at the recent event, ANJR noted, “The Recycling Act – the nation’s first – had set a recycling goal of 50 percent for all municipal solid waste. New Jersey has never been able to surpass 40 percent, but Martin said his department is committed to enhancing household recycling and is implementing several initiatives, including a new web app that will make it easier for residents to participate by clarifying what materials can be recycled and what cannot, on a county-by-county basis. The DEP also is moving to increase recycling inspections in conjunction with county environmental health agencies.”

In addition, Martin saluted recent legislation to update and extend a state law governing e-waste recycling; the amendments are expected to further increase the recycling of electronic products such as used computers and televisions.

Other top priorities for recycling-minded organizations and legislators include addressing food waste and single-use plastic disposables, according to Andersen. “Globally, eight million tons of plastic waste enters the oceans every day,” she pointed out. “There is consistently legislation floating around the State House on plastic bag bans and the like, but it’s hard to move these through.”

She stressed, as an overall guide, “We need to pay attention to the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. They are in that order for a reason. Recycling is last.”

Residents are also urged to mind the information provided by their town’s recycling office, as every county has a slightly different list of what and how it recycles. All municipalities have literature to guide their recycling, and, on Long Beach Island, each municipality has a recycling coordinator.

Andersen – like father, like daughter – is happy to educate others about recycling. Local groups that would like to schedule an informative recycling talk at an upcoming meeting can contact her at

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch 

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