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Allen Hershkowitz’s Blog

Recycling Can Create 1.5 million New Jobs and Reduce Greenhouse Emissions

Allen Hershkowitz

Posted November 15, 2011

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A new report released today by a coalition of labor and environmental groups estimates that recycling 75 percent of the nation’s municipal waste, in combination with incentives for manufacturers to use recycled raw materials, will create nearly 1.5 million desperately needed new jobs by 2030.

The report, More Jobs, Less Pollution, also estimates that by using a much higher level of recycled materials in manufacturing plants, we can reduce global warming pollution by as much as 276 million metric tons by 2030, an amount equal to eliminating the emissions of approximately 72 coal-fired power plants or taking 50 million cars off the road.

The report was prepared by the Tellus Institute for the Blue Green Alliance, a coalition of labor and environmental organizations that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union, Recycling Works! and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

Never in our lifetime has it been more important to merge environmental progress with jobs.

The country is underachieving when it comes to recycling and our nation suffers the effects of historically high unemployment rates every day.  

This report raises our hopes. It confirms that organized labor and environmentalists can join together in behalf of ecological progress and jobs production, and it reminds us that recycling, the most popular environmental activity, still holds great potential to heal the planet in an ecologically and economically productive way.  

This report can help educate and encourage policy makers at all levels of government about what they can do to create a more robust recycling system for our planet and our economy.

Most of the materials in the municipal waste stream are recyclable or compostable or are non-combustible.  We know that recycling is the best ecological and economic route for about 80% of the materials in the waste stream. But we lack the policies to get those materials recycled.

There is increasing pressure to combust the materials in our waste stream for one time energy benefit. But this is not only a waste a resources, it is a jobs killer: The new report More Jobs, Less Pollution shows that recycling produces between 10 to 20 times more jobs per ton of material processed than does combustion or landfilling.

However, the United States’ lacks the policies to recover higher levels of materials from our wastes and we lack the policies to get the materials that we do recover recycled at manufacturing facilities in the USA. As a result, the recycling system in the USA is underachieving, and it is supporting jobs abroad. The promise of recycling remains unfulfilled.

We need to change that.

To do so, we need not only to divert materials away from incinerators and landfills. We also need to stimulate investments into new manufacturing facilities in the USA that will process those materials into new commodities and produce jobs in doing so.

What can you do?

Get the word out about this report.

For decades we’ve been talking about recycling being the most jobs-producing environmental policy but never in our lifetime has it been more urgent to develop that potential. We have never faced an economy this dire and we’ve never confronted so many urgent ecological threats.

Study the policy options in this report and see policies what might work in your community to increase recycling: For some communities it might be enacting Extended Producer Responsibility laws that help finance local collection programs through fees levied on consumer products companies. These laws exist in throughout Europe and Canada, alleviating the financial pressure of waste management on localities and stimulating most successful recycling rates. For other communities it might mean enacting enhanced container deposit laws, which are known to be the most successful approach to materials collection ever devised. And for other communities it might mean offering investment tax credits or other government incentives to encourage manufacturers to expand their use of recycled raw materials.

Every community can benefit from implementing some of the policies outlined in this report.

Share this report. Download copies of it, send the PDF around to policy makers and local businesses.

Get the word out: the potential of recycling to reduce pollution and create jobs is once again confirmed.


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Comments (Add yours)

not sharable.Nov 27 2011 10:11 PM

this is amazing i didn't know that. it helped alot with my gate homework. this is our topic and i couln't find this anywhere else.

Emelita AguinaldoJan 2 2012 08:40 PM

Very useful reference to justify program on recycling. Thanks.

Daniel LongcopeFeb 21 2012 12:23 PM

Hi Allen,
I just heard you on Diane Rehm and was very impressed. I work for a company that provides hardware and software solutions for the recycling and waste industry. In fact, the caller "Mary" from Grand Rapids, MI was just about to talk about one of our pilot programs when she was cut off.
Personally, I've recently had an epiphany on the topic and I think I know at exactly how we could achieve the targets set out by this report. I'm pulling together a team of experts (leaders from the NSF, MIT, IBM, Municipal Solid Waste Directors, etc...) to establish the efficacy of my ideas and I'd greatly appreciate your feedback.

Jane KabutuJun 26 2013 04:52 AM

My husband and I have a company and we use plastic and nylon paper to create several construction materials. These are poles e.t.c.
In other words we are recycling paper and plastic items.

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