Thank You

Thank you to the following organizations for their continued support of our research and this Data Dashboard, which is part of Project STIR (Sparking Transformation using Information & Research).

Moses Taylor Foundation
The Robert H. Spitz Foundation
Willary Foundation
Scranton Area Community Foundation
William G. McGowan Charitable Fund

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The Environment section of the report focuses on several key indicators, including recycling, waste management, mining impacts, and air and water quality.


Many of the region’s critical environmental challenges relate to its industrial past. The lingering effects of coal mining and other heavy industries include contaminated brownfield sites, coal refuse sites, mine subsidence, mine fires, and acid mine drainage.


The most recent statewide statistics on recycled materials is from 2017. At that time, recycled tonnage varied significantly in both counties. The total tonnage of Lackawanna County’s recycled material, as a percentage of the statewide total, spiked in 2014 and remained disproportionately high in the years since, accounting for about 30 percent of all recycled materials statewide in 2015 and 2016, and 11 percent in 2017. In 2014, DEP attributed this anomaly to large amounts of materials recycled from the University of Scranton’s demolition of the former YWCA building and construction of Leahy Hall. Luzerne County has accounted for an average of two to three percent of the total statewide tonnage, roughly approximating its share of the statewide population.

Among common categories of residential recycled materials, both counties and the Commonwealth as a whole increased the amount of single-stream recycled materials generated between 2015 and 2016. Both counties also saw increases in metals recycled. In 2017, single stream recycling continued to grow in both counties while leveling off statewide. In Lackawanna County, there was a significant drop in recycled plastics and metals, while Luzerne County saw a decline in organic materials. Statewide, there were also declines in residential recycling of plastics, metals, glass, and organics.

Lackawanna Residential Recycling for Selected Materials

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Luzerne Residential Recycling for Selected Materials

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Pennsylvania Residential Recycling for Selected Materials

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Waste Facilities

Lackawanna County generated nearly 323,000 tons of waste in 2020 – an increase of just under six percent from the prior year. Luzerne County generated over 306,000 tons – a decline of about 11 percent from the prior year. For the third straight year, Lackawanna County saw an increase in construction waste. Municipal waste, the largest share of waste generated in both counties, declined in both counties in 2020.

Both counties reversed trends seen between 2018 and 2019, and both have seen growth in waste tonnage since 2016. Lackawanna County saw a large increase in tonnage compared with the year 2000, while Luzerne County’s 2020 total is slightly lower than in 2000.

Total Waste by Type: 2020 (In Tons)

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Total Waste by County (In Tons)

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Abandoned Mine Reclamation

Abandoned mine lands (AMLs) refer to any of the 250,000 acres of mine lands left abandoned across Pennsylvania. There are AMLs in 43 of the Commonwealth’s 67 counties. Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties together are home to seven percent of the state’s 5,617 abandoned mine lands, with a total of 412 between the two counties. As of the most recent report in 2013, there were 165 sites in Lackawanna County and 247 in Luzerne County.

The Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Economic Development Pilot Program provides U.S. treasury funds to each of the three Appalachian state AML programs, including Pennsylvania. The funds are used for the reclamation of AML in conjunction with economic and community development and reuse goals. The sites could be former mines, coal refuse areas, areas with acid mine drainage, and more. Congress approved continued funding for fiscal years 2017 and 2018. In 2016, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties each had one pilot program site. The following year, Lackawanna County had two AML revitalization sites and Luzerne County had four. In 2018, each county had reverted to one site each. No sites were reported in available documents in either county in 2019, and the statewide number of pilot projects dropped from 15 to 11.

Coal refuse refers to any waste coal or other materials (such as shale, clay, or rock) that are brought above ground or removed from coal mines during mining activities. The term also refers to the leftover materials separated from coal during cleaning operations. Coal refuse sites are areas where such materials are disposed. There are 13 reported refuse sites in Luzerne County. This number has increased over the years, from seven sites in 2013. Lackawanna County has four refuse sites, also an increase. There are a total of 53 coal refuse sites in Pennsylvania. From 2014 to 2019 the percentage of statewide sites between the two counties has slowly grown. It most recently stood at 32 percent.

Number of AML Sites

Source: PA Department of Environmental Protection

Air Quality

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is used to measure air quality.  AQI reads five different pollutants to assess the safety of the nation’s air quality. They are ground level ozone (smog), particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. The overall AQI is the highest AQI of any of the five individual pollutants. Scores of 0 to 50 are considered good air quality, 51 to 100 are considered moderate, 101 to 150 are considered unhealthy to sensitive groups, 151 to 200 are considered unhealthy to everyone, 201 to 200 are considered very unhealthy, and scores above 301 are considered hazardous for all people.

Monitoring stations in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties have generally reported AQI ratings in the ‘Good’ range. AQI data changes daily and is available in real time from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Air Quality. Annual data, including the number of unhealthy air quality days and the median AQI for the calendar year, is collected from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Over the past several years, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties have reported no unhealthy AQI days. The 2020 median AQI for Lackawanna County was 38, and 31 for Luzerne County. This represents a slight decline in quality for Lackawanna County and a small improvement for Luzerne County. Though they have remained in the ‘Good’ range for all years analyzed, AQI has improved by about 14 percent in Lackawanna County since 2000 and Luzerne County has improved by over 30 percent.

Air Quality Index (AQI): Median

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency Air Data