Recycling Industry: Economic Benefits

It is common knowledge that recycling plays an important role in protecting the air, water and land.  It would be hard to determine the monetary value for these essential and valuable natural resources, but the economic value of recycling can be quantified.

Recycling materials into new products is not only good for the environment but also a major job creator and generator of tax revenues.  It plays an important role in state and national economies, creating jobs and generating billions in annual economic activity.

A Major Contributor to Jobs, Wages and Tax Revenues

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 Recycling Economic Information (REI) report, which looked at the numbers of jobs, wages and tax revenues attributed to recycling nationally, found that recycling and reuse accounted for 757,000 U.S. jobs, $36.6 billion in U.S. wages and $6.7 billion in U.S. tax revenues in the year 2007.

Iron and Steel

Steel tops the list as the most recycled material, not only in the U.S., but in the world.  Domestic and foreign industrial consumers depend on ferrous scrap as an essential and cost-efficient raw material in the production of new steel and cast iron commodities.

Using ferrous scrap, which is salvaged from sources such as automobiles, household appliances, farm equipment, and steel structures, instead of virgin materials in the production of iron and steel reduces CO2 emissions by 58 percent.

To put it in perspective, on average, enough ferrous scrap is processed daily by weight in the U.S. to build 25 Eiffel Towers every day of the year.” As the world’s largest exporter of ferrous scrap, the U.S. exports the material to approximately 80 other countries.

In 2013 the recycling rate for steel cans was 70 percent. For structural steel, it was 97.5 percent, and for cars, it was 85 percent.  In fact, the U.S. recycled the equivalent of nearly 12 million cars that year.

Safety Concerns

Unfortunately, although there are many positives to recycling, there are safety hazards for workers in some areas of the industry. According to OSHA, special enforcement programs addressing sectors of the recycling industry have been implemented in five of its 10 regions. However, advocates are urging OSHA to construct a national program targeting sorting plants.

The Numbers are There

Using recycled material instead of virgin materials in the production of new products saves energy and resources, which in turn drops costs.  In the glass manufacturing process, energy costs go down by 2 or 3 percent for every 10 percent recycled glass cullet.  Recycling steel uses 56 percent less energy than producing steel from iron ore.   Recycling one car saves more than 2,500 lbs. of iron ore, 1,400 lbs. of coal, and 120 lbs. of limestone.  All of these add up to significant cost savings for manufacturers.

Header photo credit: Hope Alexander National Archives, 547625 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/547625

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