Recycling is an economic development tool

Niel_ChasingArrowsI_Neil1on1s028_crop_webRecycling is not just good for the environment. Recyclables have value. Recycling creates jobs. The process of turning collected recyclables into new products creates a chain of economic activity that can result in business expansion, increased tax revenue and other economic growth.

The “U.S. Recycling Economic Information (REI) Study” was commissioned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in partnership with numerous states to determine the economic benefits of recycling to the national economy. This was a groundbreaking study that established an important benchmark for the economic impact of recycling and reuse.

The study was completed in 2001. At that time, the recycling and reuse industry included more than 56,000 establishments nationwide. Together, these businesses employed 1.1 million people, generated an annual payroll of $37 billion and grossed $236 billion in annual sales. The REI Study also documented the “indirect” impact of recycling on support industries, such as accounting firms and office supply companies. It found that the reuse and recycling industry indirectly supported 1.4 million jobs that have a payroll of $52 billion and produce $173 billion in receipts.

A similar Missouri study was conducted by the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority (EIERA). The “Missouri Recycling Economic Information Study (MOREIS)” found that in 2005, Missouri-based recycling programs provided more than 80,000 direct and indirect jobs with an annual payroll of more than $1.7 billion.

Over the past year, the MARC Solid Waste Management District has hosted a speaker series titled “Chasing Arrows, Growing Business: How Recycling Creates Jobs and Economic Opportunities.” The first speaker, Dr. Neil Seldman of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, provided the foundation for the series by explaining how recycling stimulates economic development through job creation. According to Dr. Seldman, “On a per-ton basis, sorting and processing recyclables alone sustain 10 times more jobs than landfilling or incineration.” He also led a workshop for local communities to learn how they can attract “end-users” of recyclable materials interested in relocating to cities and counties that generate the recyclables they seek.

The second speaker, Terry McDonald of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, Ore., provided a look at how the nonprofit sector can implement recycling-based businesses to fund programs and services. The organization’s 10 recycling enterprises divert more than 17 million pounds and generate more than $24 million in revenue annually. This revenue funds a comprehensive local housing program that includes 1,000 subsidized rental units, emergency services for nearly 50,000 adults a year, and job training and placement assistance for 1,000 people a year.

The third speaker, Dr. Dan Knapp from Urban Ore, located in Berkeley, Calif., has turned the concept of reuse into a multimillion-dollar business. His store diverts material from landfilling in several ways: a salvaging operation at the local transfer station; a drop-off program; and a trade program that collects materials from select locations. Urban Ore has become successful by being cost-competitive with disposal options.

The final speaker, scheduled for December, is Dr. Joseph Martinich from the University of Missouri – St. Louis. Dr. Martinich, the primary researcher for the MOREIS study, will provide additional insights to the economic impact of recycling in Missouri. His presentation will take place as part of the District’s Annual Meeting, Dec. 11, 2013, at Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. Register by contacting Lisa McDaniel, at

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