How More Recycling Could Boost the Economy

recycle flagThrowing Away Jobs: How More Recycling Could Boost the Economy

Recycling may be all the rage these days, but here in L.A. and across the country vast amounts of recyclable goods end up in landfills every year.

Turns out we’re throwing away a lot more than bottles, cans and newspapers. Here’s why: recycling equals jobs.

The recent report More Jobs, Less Pollution: Growing the Recycling Economy in the U.S., commissioned by the national Blue Green Alliance and prepared by the Boston-based Tellus Institute, builds a compelling case for thinking twice before throwing that old carpet into the trash. According to the report, increasing the national diversion and recycling rate to 75 percent by 2030 would create over 2.3 million new jobs.

Reuse and recycling — from collection to processing and manufacturing — is much more labor intensive than landfilling and incineration. Take all of those aluminum cans you redeemed this year, for example. Throwing them in the trash would translate into one job at a landfill or incinerator for every 10,000 tons. Recycling or reusing those same cans or aluminum products  would create as many as 20 jobs in processing, 176 jobs in manufacturing or 200 jobs in reuse/remanufacturing.

sabrina bornsteinThis approach, called the “Green Economy Scenario,” not only leads to more jobs, but also will contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment. In fact, according to the report, if we can reach 75 percent diversion across the nation, it will be equivalent to shutting down about 72 coal power plants or taking 50 million cars off the roads.

So we have a choice: we can burn and bury our jobs or we can grow the local economyand significantly improve the environment and our health by passing zero-waste policies. The choice seems pretty clear to me.

Sabrina Bornstein
The Frying Pan 

Sabrina Bornstein is a research and policy analyst for LAANE’s Waste & Recycling Project.


  1. says

    This article needs more detail to connect its high-level sound-good legislative recommendation – ‘passing zero-waste policies’ – with the everyday practicalities that are the main real reason we don’t recycle more: like Marie’s problem of where is she supposed to give in her maybe-recyclable rags.

    Anyhow the issue is not whether recycling and re-use will create more jobs than landfill. Obviously re-use can create scads of jobs, but just how profitable – compared to alternatives – will those jobs will be for workers and society? The answer can depend greatly on the specific kind of to-be-recycled or re-used materials (or products) and – usually more important – on what alternative ways exist to deploy not only the materials themselves but the needed combination of worker skills and labor and capital goods. Some recovery and re-use jobs may require a lot of labor to produce relatively low-value products: such jobs can amount to make-work and are better ‘thrown away’ than attempted. Recovery and re-use is quite profitable in the discussed case of aluminum, far less so in some other cases.

    ‘Zero-waste’ is an attractive and readily appreciated target that can motivate much-needed intensified efforts to find and exploit ways beneficially to reduce waste. But the key word here is ‘beneficially': our true policy aim should be waste reduction not for itself but as a tool for overall benefit to present and future society.

  2. Marie says

    I have tried allover to find a place that would take in old rags for recycling. Didn’t they make paper out of that ?

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