It seems like common sense that recycling is good for the environment. The less trash we dump into landfills or burn in incinerators, the better.
Did you know that recycling is also good for the economy? In fact, the more we divert waste into recycling, the more jobs we create.
In 2011, the Tellus Institute developed a report entitled More Jobs, Less Pollution: Growing the Recycling Economy in the U.S. The report is now 7 years old, and uses data from 2008, but it’s still a useful resource for understanding the link between recycling and jobs.
The Tellus report does a few interesting things. First, it calculates the jobs that are created to manage the collection and disposal of waste. It basically answers this question: When we throw away a ton of trash, how many jobs does that create? The answer is less than one job, 0.66 to be exact.
Second, the report answers another range of questions. For example: When we recycle a ton of paper, how many jobs are created? How about a ton of aluminum? Plastic? How many jobs are created when we compost a ton of food waste? The report answers those questions and explains how it arrives at its conclusions. The chart below shows the stark difference between the jobs that recycling creates versus those that landfilling or incinerating create.
Finally, the report outlines three different scenarios, estimating the number of jobs created in each scenario. Those scenarios are:
- 2008 Actual: How many jobs were needed in 2008 to collect and manage waste and recycling when we had a 33% diversion rate for municipal solid waste (MSW) and a 30% diversion rate for construction and demolition (C&D) debris?
- 2030 Base Case: How many jobs would be needed by 2030 if we made modest improvements in waste diversion (to 41% for MSW and 37% for C&D)?
- 2030 Green Case: How many jobs would be needed by 2030 if we made strong improvements, raising the diversion rate to 75% for both MSW and C&D debris?
The differences are striking, as outlined in the table below. The “Green” scenario would add nearly 1.5 million jobs as compared to the 2008 actual.
Clearly, reducing waste is good for jobs. When you add in the environmental benefits, it becomes a “no-brainer.” In our experience, the single most important thing that any community can do to reduce MSW is to implement a unit-based pricing system for trash, also called Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT). There are many ways to do this, but a bag-based system is usually most effective.
Bag-based PAYT systems reduce trash by about 44%, on average. We’ve seen recycling volumes double (or more) with these systems. They basically convert trash into savings and jobs.
And the beauty of it is that a community can choose to do it on its own. It doesn’t matter what the politicians in Washington, D.C. or their state capitols say. It’s a local decision that communities can make on their own terms. It’s just about the most impactful environmental policy a community can enact.