Recycling in the US - Job Creation and Environmental Protection

On November 16, the United States Senate unanimously voted to pass Senate Resolution 251, which aims to increase and expand recycling programs across the United States. In response to slowing rates of increases in US recycling, this resolution expresses the Senate’s support for government policies that promote recycling by rewarding businesses and communities that choose to recycle their goods or create goods made from recycled products. The resolution also stresses the importance of investment in research and development to improve technologies for recycling materials and removing contaminant materials from products that currently prevent them from being recycled. This resolution emphasizes that growing the recycling sector will assist the American economy by creating jobs in the floundering American manufacturing sector.

Several of The Overbrook Foundation’s grantees supported the development of this resolution and took leadership roles in advocating for its support in Congress, including an initiative by the Environmental Paper Network’s RePaper Project, seeking a 75% paper recovery rate for recycling by 2015. In fact, you can learn more about this resolution and the next steps to promote recycling on the Environmental Paper Network’s blog, which also contains the press release from sponsoring Senators, Tom Carper and Olympia Snowe.

Additionally, Overbrook grantees have been involved with a new publication on recycling and its potential to create jobs, More Jobs, Less Pollution: Growing the Recycling Economy in the U.S.This report was released on November 14 by Overbrook grantees the NRDC (Natural Resource Defense Council) and GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) along with other partners from unions and environmentalist organizations. Through this publication, readers will acquire a greater understanding of why this is a critical moment for all Americans to advocate for and personally engage in recycling. It shows how an overall waste diversion rate (recycling rate) of 75% through 2030 will improve both our economic future and our environmental future. To put these numbers into perspective, the current overall waste diversion rate is 33% and if the level of growth in population, resource use and personal recycling remains constant, the overall waste diversion rate would reach 41% in 2030. Obviously, reaching these target levels of recycling would require policy shifts and individual lifestyle changes. However, the payoff would include the creation of 2.3 million jobs in the United States, lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions and of general pollution or toxin levels, and a decrease of ecological pressure associated with the depletion of nonrenewable resources. While this report contains information on environmental factors, it also intentionally taps into the current national attention on the economy by highlighting the potential creation of many more jobs if we change our disposal methods. For instance, waste management systems currently employ fewer individuals than recycling systems or plants manufacturing goods from recycled materials.

The Foundation is deeply concerned with sustainable consumption so we truly hope that this resolution is a step in the direction of increased attention to recycling issues. As echoed in the report, this is a critical moment where we need to grow recycling capacity rather than continuing to use incinerators or other inefficient waste disposal mechanisms in the United States. The inclusion of information on job creation may create a larger coalition of people willing to act on recycling and support the work of our grantees to improve recycling practices, recycling policy, and the implementation of environmentally-friendly packaging programs.