PORTAGE | Indiana manufacturers are hungry for recyclable materials but a lack of statewide regulations is keeping them from easy access to the commodity.
"In Indiana right now, we are throwing away 3 million beverage containers every year, all of which have strong markets in Indiana and are scrambling to bring in materials," said Carey Hamilton, executive director of the Indiana Recycling Coalition.
Hamilton addressed the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's Environmental Management Policy Committee meeting Thursday, saying a lack of statewide recycling legislation coupled with funding challenges are hindering job and economic opportunities.
"Manufacturers in a manufacturing state want recycled versus raw materials because they save so much on their energy costs," Hamilton said. "There are 60 manufacturers that use recycled materials in Indiana. We're just not serving those companies well."
Hamilton said Indiana began tackling recycling issues in earnest in 1990, but the initial enthusiasm – driven by a perceived landfill crisis that turned out not to be the reality – waned over the years.
Indiana in 1990 set the goal of reducing waste by 35 percent by 1996 and 50 percent by 2001. The state had a 30 percent reduction by 1996 and a 39 percent reduction by 2001, Hamilton said.
County solid waste management districts were established at the same time to help meet the waste reduction goals. Hamilton said the state later revoked statewide reduction goals, but left the waste districts in place.
The state also created the Solid Waste Management Fund in 1990, fed by a 50 cent tipping fee received for every ton of material entering an Indiana landfill. The fee – the second-lowest in the Midwest behind Michigan – generates about $6 million annually, some of which was used for recycling grants for the public and private sector.
Those funds were frozen in 2009 due to the state's financial crisis. Hamilton said the IRC lobbied for the funds to be released and eventually $500,000 was made available again for grants, but only for the private sector.
"Sadly, that money is just sitting in the fund accruing and is not going to any other benefit right now," she said.
The IRC is working with a number of stakeholders to prioritize proposals for legislation. The group is discussing potential lobbying efforts toward re-instating the recycling fund, establishing new statewide recycling goals, creating electronics recycling laws funded by manufacturers, requiring recycling rate reporting, establishing a bottle deposit law, banning disposal of certain commodities, requiring recycling for multi-family housing and requiring restaurants and bars to recycle beverage containers.
Geof Benson, Beverly Shores Town Council president, said he believes better sorting of materials by waste companies could help solve many of the issues.
"We've been pushing education in schools for a long time, but they're still throwing things away," Benson said. "Somebody who's already in the business, if you can convince them that they'll make money, it might be an easier sell."
Hamilton said the challenge lies in "municipal contracts, personal will and politics."
"We've got strong demand from companies, but we don't have the will from the private and municipal sectors yet," she said.
Jeff Langbehn, executive director of the Lake County Solid Waste Management District, agreed.
"Schools want to recycle more, but when they go to their vendors, they say, 'Sure, we'll provide bins but it'll cost you 20 to 30 percent more,'" Langbehn said. "They don't have it in their budget and it goes by the wayside.
"Until there is an advantageous, viable incentive for them to do something different, it's not going to change."
Langbehn said some local municipalities are ramping up recycling efforts while others are cutting back.
"We're making steps forward and taking steps backward but until we get a unified approach in Indianapolis, we're going to see the disparities continuing to happen," he said.