The institutional framework and know-how exists to cost effectively reuse, recycle, or compost 90% of the estimated 480 million tons of municipal solid waste and construction and demolition debris generated in the U.S. annually. These strategies – collectively known as zero waste – are being employed by leading communities in the U.S. (San Francisco has reached 77% diversion with plans to go higher) and across Europe.
When collected with skill and care, and upgraded with quality in mind, discarded materials are a local resource that can contribute to local revenue, job creation, business expansion, and the local economic base. On a per-ton basis, sorting and processing recyclables alone sustain 10 times more jobs than landfilling or incineration. Making new products from the old offers the largest economic pay-off in the recycling loop. New recycling-based manufacturers employ even more people and at higher wages than does sorting recyclables. Some recycling-based paper mills and plastic product manufacturers, for instance, employ on a per-ton basis 60 times more workers than do landfills. In fact, it is estimated that increasing the national diversion rate to 75% (from the current 34%) would add 1.5 million jobs to the economy. Beyond the obvious economic benefits, moving toward zero waste is an effective environmental protection strategy. Reuse and recycling reduce the impact of extractive industries by making the most of materials already in circulation.
Click here for ILSR’s data on jobs through recycling.