What are New Jersey recycling approvals?

Written By: Doug Ruhlin | Nov 5, 2021

Time to Read 9 Minutes

Learn what recycling approvals are in the state of New Jersey - and what they mean to you and your business!

While it seems obvious that everyone is in favor of recycling – particularly in highly populated states with limited landfill space – government regulations can have a huge impact on the actual business of recycling.

That’s no different in New Jersey, which has some of the most strict recycling regulations anywhere in the United States! These regulations influence the ability of those seeking to operate a recycling business, from the time and costs to get started, to their annual requirements, to the very locations they can operate a recycling facility at.

And, for these recycling operations, the most critical aspect of operating is the ability to obtain a recycling approval from the NJDEP. Unfortunately, recycling approvals and regulations can feel complicated and frustrating, particularly for recyclers new to the business.

In fact, it can be so complicated to find answers when it comes to recycling approvals that we've found one of the most common questions we get asked about them is also the most basic: what are recycling approvals, anyway?

We know how important recycling is, so we’ll do our best to unravel some of the mystery behind recycling approvals in New Jersey as simply as we can in this quick read.


So, what is a New Jersey recycling approval?

To put it simply, a recycling approval is just that - an approval to recycle. Think of them kind of like driver's licenses. If you want to drive a car (legally!), you're going to need to fill out some paperwork and pay some fees to the New Jersey MVC to receive your license. Likewise, in order to run a recycling operation in New Jersey, you'll need a recycling approval, meaning you'll have to submit an application and pay some money to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). Luckily, you won't need to prove you can parallel park to obtain a recycling approval!

And, in the same way that there are different classes of driver's licenses (you can't drive a motorcycle or an 18-wheeler with a standard Class D driver's license in New Jersey!) - there are also different classes of recycling approvals. These different classes are based upon the type of material that you intend to recycle - more on those classes and materials later.

For now, just know this: a recycling approval is a form of solid waste approval, issued under the State’s solid waste regulations, so it’s a big, serious approval, issued by the same folks who issue landfill permits and waste incinerator permits.

Who regulates recycling approvals in New Jersey?

We already touched on this so maybe you're ahead of us, but the State of New Jersey, through the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), regulates all solid waste facilities operating within the State. Since recyclable materials are a form of solid waste, nearly any facility which is in the recycling business in New Jersey is also regulated by the NJDEP.

That means that any recycling facility in the State of New Jersey is required to get a recycling approval of some type from the NJDEP or operate under an exemption from the need of a recycling approval. Operating a recycling facility without an appropriate recycling approval (or in a manner exempt from the need of a recycling approval) is considered a violation of the State’s solid waste regulations and can carry significant penalties.

Who needs a recycling approval in New Jersey?

Wait, an approval is needed from the State of New Jersey to recycle? No, that’s not necessarily the case. You don't need an approval to recycle your empty water bottles and cardboard boxes at home, for instance. However, a recycling approval is required (in most cases) from the State to operate a recycling business, if you receive, store, process or transfer identified recyclable materials.

The full story is a little more complex than we'll get into here, so for a detailed breakdown on whether or not you'll need a recycling approval, be sure to check out our other article: Who needs a recycling approval in New Jersey?

For now, we'll keep it simple and just say this: whether or not you are going to need a recycling approval from the NJDEP depends on whether or not you receive, store, process, or transfer recyclable materials, the types of material to be recycled, and the nature (scale and duration) of the operation.


What does receive, store, process or transfer mean?

We just mentioned that any business that receives, stores, processes, or transfers recyclable materials in New Jersey needs a recycling approval. But what exactly do these terms mean? Let's take a closer look.

  • Receive – The recyclable materials are delivered to you, dropped off, or otherwise get to your facility.
  • Store – The recyclable materials you receive are stored at your site, regardless of how long, whether it’s for an hour or a year.
  • Process – The physical act of recycling, such as crushing, grinding, shredding, taking things apart etc.
  • Transfer – Sending the material back out of your site, either in the same condition it came in as, or in some recycled form.

Remember, you don’t need to meet all four of these criteria, any one of them alone will render your facility a recycling business, and possibly in need of a recycling approval!

What are recyclable materials that are regulated by the NJDEP?

Remember earlier during our "driver's license" example when we said there are different "classes" of recyclable materials that will determine which approval you'll need? We have a whole article on the classes of recyclable materials in New Jersey if you'd like the full story. For now, here's the short version:

  • Class A Materials - Things most people think of as recyclable, like glass, plastics, cardboard, metal, that sort of thing.
  • Class B Materials - Things commonly related to construction, like concrete, asphalt, wood, tree parts, asphalt shingles, tires, etc.
  • Class C Materials - Things that are composted, like leaves, grass, farm materials, and maybe even food waste if it's composted.
  • Class D Materials - Things that are classified as "universal wastes", like consumer electronics (computers, phones, etc.), batteries, antifreeze, latex paints, used oil, etc.

There are some materials that don't fit into those categories, like textiles or architectural salvage items. If you're looking to recycle these kinds of materials, you might be able to get covered under a New Jersey recycling exemption. In this case, your best bet is probably to talk to a recycling expert and get further help.

Recycling Exemptions in New Jersey

So does every business that wants to get into the recycling business need a recycling approval from the NJDEP? Well again, it depends.

In some cases (like in the case we just mentioned regarding not falling under any of the established classes), you may be considered exempt from the need for a recycling approval, and instead can operate under a New Jersey recycling exemption issued by the NJDEP.

This topic gets fairly complex, so we've developed an entire series of articles on recycling exemptions in New Jersey. You can find the whole series, as well as some other articles that may be helpful to you on NJ recycling exemptions, below:


Additional Resources on Recycling Approvals in New Jersey

As you can probably tell, recycling approvals in New Jersey are pretty complicated - more than we can cover here in this article. If you're still unsure about New Jersey's regulations on recycling approvals and whether or not they apply to you, you may want to check out some of these other articles for more information:

Trying to wrap your head around New Jersey recycling approvals can be exhausting. We get it, because we've helped more businesses with recycling approvals in New Jersey than we can count.

So, if you're having any type of issue at your operation with New Jersey recycling approvals, need to obtain a recycling approval, or anything else related to your company's environmental program, and need the help of an environmental consulting firm with a proven track record, reach out.

Even if we can't help, we’ll do our best to steer you in the right direction. Feel free to contact us at info@rmagreen.com, click here to contact us, or give us a call anytime at 888-RMA-0230 to learn how we can help your operation deal with environmental regulations and recycling approvals in New Jersey.

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