Increased Recycling Could Create 1.5M Jobs


A new report finds that 1.5 million news job would be created if the U.S. achieved a 75 percent national recycling rate. Photo: Alexis Petru, Earth911

Just in time for America Recycles Day, a new report finds that a national recycling rate of 75 percent would create 1.5 million jobs and reduce carbon emissions by 276 million metric tons by 2030.

The report, “More Jobs, Less Pollution,” was prepared by the Tellus Institute for a variety of environmental and labor groups including the BlueGreen Alliance, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Natural Resources Defense Council, Recycling Works!, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Teamsters.

While the majority of America’s municipal solid waste can be readily recycled, reused or composted, only 33 percent is currently being diverted from disposal; the rest ends up in the landfill, according to the report.

If the U.S. could intensify its waste-diversion efforts and hit a 75 percent recycling rate, the recycling and waste industry would boast over 2.3 million jobs by 2030 – 1.5 million more jobs in this sector than in 2008, the report determined.

Where would these new jobs come from? Recycling, composting and other waste-reduction activities would account for 98 percent of these jobs, while disposal would comprise 2 percent, the report.

READ: A Day in the Life of a Recycling Driver

The report found that processing recyclables, which is quite labor-intensive, generates more jobs than waste collection and disposal, which relies on equipment that can handle large amounts of material with few employees. While recyclable processing can produce two jobs per 1,000 tons of waste, waste disposal yields 0.1 jobs per 1,000 tons.

According to the report, nearly half of the new jobs created would be in manufacturing – making new products out of recycled materials – which would provide a boost to that sector.

But if the U.S. continues on its current path – generating more waste and only modestly increasing the current recycling and composting rates – only 368,000 new jobs will be created by 2030, the report concluded.

Another key finding of “More Jobs, Less Pollution” was the amount of carbon emissions that would be reduced from increasing waste-diversion activities. If the U.S. reached a 75 percent recycling rate, the country’s carbon emissions would drop by the equivalent of 72 coal-fired power plants or taking 50 million cars off the road.

READ: California Adopts 75 Percent Recycling Goal

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