Recycling and New Job Creation

The Role of Recycling Businesses in Opening New Employment Opportunities

Scrap workers in a recycling plant.
  Monty Rakusen / Getty Images 

The recycling industry has grown quickly in recent decades, and this boom has translated into social, environmental, and economic benefits for society. One of these is the creation of jobs in the recycling industry, as well as recycling self-employment opportunities. There are also several training options available for those interested in pursuing a career in the recycling industry.

How Recycling Creates Jobs

Solid waste management is a highly mechanized process that is achieved with a modest amount of labor. Recycling, on the other hand, can be much more labor-intensive. It involves the collection, sorting, and processing activities, ISRI, as well as other supporting roles such as facilities operations, sales, and logistics support.

Recycling is an integrated process that begins with recyclable material collection from locations such as households, drop-off points, construction, and demolition centers and businesses. After collection, these recyclable materials go through a thorough sorting process to separate various materials as well as different quality goods. For example, in textile recycling, a percentage of used clothing can be utilized without further processing. The reusable clothing can be resold or distributed after washing.

For plastic, paper, metal, and glass recycling, collected items go through a rigorous process to be usable as a raw material for the production of new goods. From the collection of materials to selling them, recycling businesses need varying degrees of skilled and semi-skilled employees to perform recycling industry jobs. Many recycling companies and associations play a significant role in building social awareness by providing recycling training services

Recycling Industry Job Statistics

  • According to ISRI, the U.S. scrap industry generated over 150,000 direct jobs and 323,000 indirect jobs in 2015.
  • According to the REI, the US recycling industry employed 1.25 million people whereas the US solid waste management industry used only 0.25 million people. The REI study says that there are more than 56,000 reuse and recycling establishments in the U.S. REI also states that on average the recycling industry pays higher average wages than the solid waste management industry.
  • According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), the systematic removal of every 10,000 tons of solid waste creates only six jobs while the same amount of waste if recycled can create recycling jobs for as many as 36 people.
  • Another report stated that wider government focus on the recycling industry could create 10,000 new jobs in the UK by 2020.
  • A study by “Friends of the Earth” said that over 51,000 recycling jobs could be created in the UK, if 70% of collected waste was recycled. If industrial and commercial waste were recycled at the same rate, another 18,800 additional job would be created. The study suggested that the government must be ambitious in setting yearly recycling rates. Sufficient actions to stop the production and selling of products that can’t be reused and recycled can take recycling rate to 75% by 2025.
  • On an EU level, if a goal of 70% recycling of the main recyclable materials was met, estimates suggest that up to 322,000 direct recycling jobs could be created in the 27 EU countries. EU countries would recycle an extra 115 million tons of textiles in the process, including woods, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastic, paper, bio-waste, and glasses. Recycling this amount of wastes and material could create another 160,900 indirect and 80,400 induced jobs. Therefore, the total potential is more than 563,000 net new jobs.

Given the capacity of recycling to generate jobs, it is important to take the necessary steps to create an environment that stimulates recycling and recycled material markets.