The Green Economy

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It looks like there may be a light at the end of the recession tunnel. Recent reports claim that the number of jobless claims is down as manufactured goods start to bounce back. Are we on the upward slope of the downswing?

With the news of the economy dominating the headlines, we thought we’d catch our readers up on what’s going on in the green scene. Despite what seems like a bleak outlook on the country’s financial state, our research found that Americans are becoming more eco-conscious, generating an upsurge for green businesses.

Photo: Groovygreen.com

President Obama has said he wants to create as many as 5 million green jobs. Photo: Groovygreen.com

Eco-Minds Think Alike

The economic downturn has caused many people to rethink the amount they consume. Saving money often translates into using less. On the bright side, we’re naturally reducing our waste in order to cut down on our expenses.

A study conducted by the National Geographic Society and Globescan found that the world’s consumers are spending less and paying more attention to their environmental impact. Out of the 17,000 consumers polled, a whopping 85 percent indicated the primary reason for their drop in energy consumption was to save money.

“Interestingly, the economic upheaval appears to have had a silver lining for the environment,” says Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president of Mission Programs. “But will positive behavior changes survive when an economic recovery starts? We hope the green behaviors that consumers are adopting now to cut costs will become part of their permanent lifestyles and that environmental concerns will become increasingly important for consumers around the globe.”

The question that’s on recyclers minds now is will this trend of reducing, reusing and recycling continue once the economy is back on its feet? Or is it simply increasing because of America’s weak financial state? In short, recyclers are hoping that this boost in recycling isn’t just a trend – but a habit.

Getting on the Upswing

While the bottom dropped out of the scrap metal industry in December, recyclers still have hope that this demand for greener living and construction will thrust the industry forward.

“It’s critical to an economic turnaround that business and consumers alike have enough confidence in the future that they’re willing to spend based on that belief,” says Waste & Recycling News Editor Allan Gerlat.

Gerlat’s editorial is in response to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries April conference attendance, which was its second best attendance ever for its annual convention. Gerlat says this is a positive sign of life because employees are investing in the future of the scrap metal market despite its recent plunge.

Waste & Recycling News recently did a profile on a handful of green construction businesses that cited sustainability efforts as their lifelines in the sea of the recession. Bob Perritt, owner of R.J. Perritt Homes in Amherst, Ohio, says that despite the economic downturn, his company reported record profits in 2008.

“If we weren’t doing anything with the green concept, we’d be dead in the water,” he says.

In fact, a total of 4,083 commercial construction projects in the U.S. registered for LEED certification from October 2008 through February 2009, a 66 percent increase from the past year. American Recycler says although there are mixed opinions on the state of the scrap metal market and recycling, there are still signs of life.

“We are cautiously optimistic that infrastructure spending in the United Sates, in China and other countries will help jump start prices and demand for our commodities,” says Bruce Savage, vice president of communications at Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. “Our theory has always been it’s not a question of if it will rebound, it’s a question of when.”

Photo: WordPress.com

"Fortunately for all the local governments trying to keep up with 'greener' expectations and balanced budgets, a framework for less waste has already been designed and tested; it only needs to be implemented." -Bill Sheehan for Waste & Recycling News. Photo: Sustainableslump.wordpress.com

Federal Push

The heightened interest in the green movement isn’t just a result of a down economy. The Obama administration has made the environment a top priority, emphasizing what Americans use and how we’re using it.

The Obama administration recently announced its proposed budget for 2010. Included in the budget is a significant increase in funding for the EPA. The $10.5 billion funding will be a 34 percent increase from the 2009 $7.8 billion allotment.

According to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, $3.9 billion will go toward improving the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure, $475 million for the Great Lakes Initiative, $17 million for creating a greenhouse has registry and $1.3 billion to clean up eligible hazardous waste sites. The new budget will also create jobs: The EPA plans to hire 30 additional staff members.

“Overall, this budget is designed to meet our most pressing economic and environmental needs,” Jackson says. “We see remarkable opportunities to create green jobs. We see new growth in communities that are cleaner, healthier places to live, work and invest. And we see new innovations that will protect our planet for the generations to come. EPA has been given extraordinary support, and a revitalized mission. We’re ready to get to work.”

What to Expect

In an April editorial, Gerlat says he believes recycling industries will never run short on material to recycle or ship to a landfill because of manufacturers’ incentives to offer more product to induce more selling and consumers’ inherent need to purchase items, needed or not.

“That drive to offer more stuff than maybe you need is a basic component of marketing,” Gerlat writes. “But more than that, it’s a basic part of our psyche, particularly our American psyche. And as long as that doesn’t change, we’ll have plenty of waste and plenty of recycling material.”

Gerlat sees the downturn as an opportunity to change our thinking: Maybe more isn’t always better.That same sentiment was echoed in American Chemistry Council’s annual blog summit, “Too Valuable To Waste.” As the economy slowly begins to turn around, we are beginning to see a trend of product stewardship and eco-friendly practices. The recession is a time for manufacturers, consumers and waste management facilities to combine and generate positive results on all fronts.

“The recession/depression should also be seen as a time to leverage better deals where necessary,” says Blair Pollock, solid waste planner for Orange County, N.C. “For many there may be lots of room to collaborate with local recyclers or others who have a stake in sound waste management.”

Recyclers and consumers stand to make a profit from their recycling efforts because prices for some products have increased over the past three months. In May, the price of aluminum cans jumped to $660 per ton, up from February’s $600 per ton. Cardboard also saw a significant increase in May to $82.50 per ton from $55 per ton in February. Newsprint increased from its February price of $24 per ton to $68.40 per ton in May.

Consumers can expect to have more opportunities to become more green with tax incentives, discounts and overall money saving elements. The recession has a bright element: We’ve learned that our materials and resources are too precious to squander away. As the economy begins to bounce back, recyclers are maintaining hope that consumers will still keep their eco-friendly practices in place.

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