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Pennsylvania recycling statute didn’t forsee Census prison miscount

by Leah Sakala, August 31, 2011  

A recent Danville News article reports that the residents of Kelly township, Pennsylvania may be forced to shoulder an unfair burden.

Pennsylvania’s Act 101 of 1988 mandates a curbside recycling system for any municipality with a population of 5,000 or more and a population density of 300 people per square mile, or with a total population of more than 10,000. With only 3,717 residents living in the Kelly community, one would imagine that Kelly would be exempt from the expensive requirement.

But official U.S. Census Bureau figures report that Kelly has nearly 5,500 people.

Where can all those extra “residents” be found? Behind bars in the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Not only might it be inefficient to institute a curbside system for the relatively small population of Kelly, but the township wouldn’t be allowed to collect recycling from the penitentiary even if they wanted to—the prison’s recycling system is run entirely by the federal government.

The article reports that the Pennsylvania law doesn’t include a provision that would allow municipalities like Kelly to avoid the requirement. Darwin Swope, Legislative Aide to Rep. Fred Keller (R-Kreamer), believes that the lack of flexibility in the recycling provision likely has a wider effect, saying, “I’m sure Kelly is not the only municipality in the state encountering this problem.”

Turns out, he’s exactly right.

We’ve identified two other Pennsylvania municipalities where the prison population requires them to create a recycling program they otherwise would not be required to start: Newport township and, as of the 2010 Census, Somerset township. Newport’s official population is inflated by the number of people incarcerated SCI Retreat, and the people incarcerated in SCI Somerset and SCI Laurel Highlands are all added to Somerset’s real population [1].

The Pennsylvania recycling statute was clearly designed to only take effect in communities of sufficient size and density where it makes economic and practical sense to mandate curbside recycling. Surely the statute’s drafters did not intend for it to apply to small municipalities that include large prisons with their own separate recycling systems. This unintended effect is just one more example of the consequences of counting incarcerated people in communities to which they do not belong.


[1] The fact that Somerset township only recently made our list may be surprising to the people who track prison expansion in Pennsylvania because the prisons there aren’t new. Even though two large prisons were located within Somerset’s boundaries during the last redistricting cycle in 2000, the total population reported by the Census was under 10,000 and the density was less than 300 people/square mile, and so the municipality was exempt from the requirement. Somerset would have had to comply with the curbside recycling mandate in 2000, however, had the Census Bureau not mistakenly counted the larger of the two prisons, SCI Somerset, in a different municipality.

3 Responses

  1. Steven Deasy says, 8 months, 3 weeks after publication:

    To whom it may concern,

    I 100 percent agree that the PA State Law has a loop hole that errantly lumps Kelly Township into the Act 101 of 1998 curbside recycling mandate.

    However, I would argue many of the points regarding an unfair burden on the residents are not based on facts. Who has done the cost analysis? Who has verified how many residents are or are not paying for trash disposal now? Those who are not paying for trash — well what are they doing with it?

    There are too many assumptions here. Because improper waste management has an impact the affects the greater community in terms of cost, environmnetal impacts, and public safety – waste management is a public/municipal responsibility. Guiding the program in a way that is intelligent can direct waste to the right place at a fair price for everyone; not just for the folks who feel like doing the right thing and paying for hauler.

    I don’t think a comprehensive curbide program that includes recycling has to drive the price up, but it might. But if some careful thinking goes into the program, there can be good program in place that carefully manages cost so they aren’t escalating without proper management into the future. Who is managing the cost of trash prices now?? Private sector competition?? If you believe that, it is true only to the smallest degree. When gas prices go down, do your trash bills ??

    As for comment on recycling from the prison. I think some homework should be done on this item. I would be surprised if DEP would not allow the Township to count these recyclables in the Act 101 Section 903 grant program that would give the municipality money (based on weight) for these materials. I would suggest the grant money be used to lower the residential cost for trash and recycling.

    Steve

    1. Leah Sakala says, 8 months, 3 weeks after publication:

      My blog post was based in part on this article reporting that a spokesperson for the federal prison said that the prison’s federally-managed recycling system is entirely distinct from the town’s system, and that the total volume of recyclables is reported only for multiple facilities in combination: http://dailyitem.com/0100_news/x975854204/Kelly-Township-grapples-with-recycling-mandate

      I certainly didn’t intend my article to be read as anti-curbside recycling, or to imply that curbside collection would be inefficient in Kelly. That’s outside my area of expertise, which focuses on the electoral issues and other inequities that flow from the Census Bureau’s prison miscount.

      I was commenting on the fact that the state used a metric to determine when curbside recycling should be required, and the fact that they take into account both population and density implies to me that the state was concerned about efficiency. Of course, if curbside recycling now makes sense in small rural communities, then it should happen.

      In any event, and we agree here, if the state is going to use a population-based metric to determine when curbside recycling is appropriate, they should probably use a relevant population statistic. Counting prison populations as residents of the community with the prison just creates confusion.

  2. Pennsylvania allays one side effect of Census Bureau’s prison miscount | Prisoners of the Census says, 10 months, 1 week after publication:

    [...] how the Census Bureau’s prison count was causing problems for the recycling system in Kelly, Pennsylvania? Last week, the Pennsylvania Legislature came to the [...]

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