NJ Recycling Permits, Exemptions, and Why Recycling in NJ is Broken

Written By: Doug Ruhlin | Aug 28, 2014

Time to Read 5 Minutes

We disucss what we've seen over the last 20+ years working with various recyclers in New Jersey, and why we think the process and industry of recycling in New Jersey is flawed and broken.

We get a lot of phone calls with regards to New Jersey recycling approvals. It's almost funny, they almost always go the exact same way. Company X calls us, and they're eager to get a New Jersey recycling permit from the NJDEP so they can set up shop and start recycling. Whether it's concrete, asphalt, wood, tires, leaves, food waste, consumer electronics, you name it, these prospective New Jersey recyclers all eventually hit the same level of frustration once they hear the truth of what's involved with getting recycling approvals in New Jersey.

Over time, I've seen quite a few companies walk away from the Garden State rather than set up shop here. I completely understand the need for strict zoning regulations, and strong environmental laws to keep our state beautiful, but why are we turning recycling companies away from New Jersey? We could certainly use more recycling opportunities, new local businesses, new jobs, and new tax sources, so why are we making getting a NJ recycling permit so hard?!

NJ Recycling Permits... Broken?

The biggest problems with recycling in New Jersey

Here are the 7 biggest problems with New Jersey recycling permits as I see them:

  1. It takes way too long. The process is incredibly long. First it's a local municipal approval (no guarantee here, and more about this below) and then you hope to get included in your county's Solid Waste Management Plan (again, no guarantee here). You'll have to attend several local and county meetings, and remember, these don't happen every day, every week, or even every month, so it's going to take a lot of time just waiting. After all that you still need to go through the NJDEP to obtain your recycling approval. How long does it take to get a NJ recycling permit? We usually advise clients to expect it will take in the neighborhood of 18 – 24 months, maybe longer. I hate to brag but we're rarely wrong. When I tell folks this on the phone, I usually hear stunned silence, some sort of 'you're full of it' line, or CLICK.
  1. It's way too expensive. Factor in the costs of fighting through local and county approval processes, professional costs such as hiring a consultant (like myself) or getting site plans from an engineer (which usually need revisions from the county), and finally the NJDEP application fees, you are well into the 5 figure range. That's just the up-front cost! This is a huge impediment to getting started, particularly since there are no guarantees you will get approved at the County level. Then count your annual fees to the NJDEP for your NJ recycling permits, which are anywhere from $14,000 to $20,000! It's certainly not cheap to run a recycling facility here.
  1. It's very political. Your local or county approval can turn into a very political thing. Maybe your municipality doesn't like your company. Maybe another recycler in your county is politically connected and doesn’t want competition. Maybe your proposed facility is down the road from a county freeholder. In any of these cases, you’re dead in the water. Without local and county approval, you are never going to get a NJ recycling approval. While many of the decisions are supposed to be based on a "technical basis", the process allows too many personal and politically motivated issues to creep in.
  1. The local part of the process doesn't work. It is way too vague, and as a result can become a total mess. Since many municipalities have never had to deal with a recycling center approval, they usually don’t know what to do. Site plan approval? Use variance? Resolution of approval from the governing board? Since there really are no rules or guidelines on this, the whole municipal process can become a quagmire. You (within reason) have to do anything the municipality asks for, adding in extra time and costs. They can (and have) asked for anything related to the project. Add in the political factor mentioned above, chaos reigns.
  1. Counties hold way too much power. Counties are supposed to make their decision to put a facility into the County Solid Waste Management Plan on the basis of need for the facility in the county alone. That doesn't make sense. How do they determine the need of a recycling facility? They don't consult existing facilities to determine if they're at capacity. Imagine this: a county already has one Ford Dealership, so the county decides they don't need any more car dealers. That would never happen, but that's the same line of reasoning they use with recycling operations in the state. This completely boggles my mind. Why does the county have the authority to allow or deny any businesses? I’ve seen applications denied at the county level because the county "doesn't need any more recycling facilities". It just doesn't work.
  1. Only a handful of old and outdated NJ recycling exemptions. There aren’t enough exemptions from regulations on the State level. New Jersey recycling exemptions are a great way to avoid this laborious process, but the exemptions are outdated, very strict, and don't really help that many operations (from our perspective, at least). The bottom line is we need more exemptions, and we need to make the ones we have now current with today's recycling and business environment. Exemptions are perfect for smaller operations, but they're too focused and don't help as many people as they should.
  1. The NJDEP regulations are overly complex. Recycling facilities are regulated as if they were landfills. Despite what the NJDEP thinks, they're not landfills. Not even close. These are usually fairly hum-drum recycling facilities. Certainly some operations are more complicated than others, but most are pretty basic facilities. Yet, every recycling facility in New Jersey is inspected once a month. Why? Who knows. Most of these places have stockpiles that don't change, equipment that doesn't change, and a handful of employees. What is the point of sending an inspector out every month?? There's facilities in the state that don't get stormwater inspections every year or are rarely ever inspected for hazardous materials, so why should a tree and brush recycler have a monthly inspection? It's a waste of time for the recycler, and a waste of time and taxpayers money on the state's end.

Overall, recycling in New Jersey is a decent industry, and we're often considered a model for other states (at least in terms of recycling volume). But considering the approval process, we pale in comparison to other states that see and understand the value of offering recycling opportunities for businesses and the public alike. When will the NJDEP catch up?

There's a lot to offer here in the Garden State. New businesses, new jobs, new tax sources, reduction in solid waste, etc. While the NJDEP may not think there's anything wrong with the system, anyone from outside the state can immediately see what a mess the approval process is. The problems with the New Jersey recycling permitting process absolutely stifle progress and keep businesses out of the state. Maybe one day, someone will wake up and make some changes. If you're thinking about pursuing a recycling approval in New Jersey, click here to contact us or give us a call at 609-693-8301 to discuss your recycling needs.

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