In August the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution that expresses support for "improvement in the collection, processing and use of recyclable materials throughout the United States." Although this non-binding resolution merely expresses support for recycling, the resolution is still a positive step forward in recognizing the importance of green jobs for both our economy and our environment.
According to the Senate press release, "It is estimated that recycling processors directly or indirectly employ over 450,000 Americans in local communities throughout the United States. These jobs account for more than $90 billion in economic output, which is more than the fishing and forestry industries combined.
A more radical path is proposed in a recent report, "More Jobs, Less Pollution" put out by the Tellus Institute, which calls for increasing the national recycling rate from the current 34 percent to 75 percent through "an enhanced national recycling and composting strategy in the United States." According to the report, such a program could "significantly and sustainably address critical national priorities including climate change, lasting job creation, and improved health."
The report found that achieving a 75 percent national recycling rate holds the potential to create 2.3 million new jobs. It would also strengthen local economies, reduce pollution and improve public health. Additionally, reaching a 75 percent national recycling rate could reduce CO2 emissions by 276 million metric tons by the year 2030. This is equivalent to eliminating the emissions from 72 coal-fired power plants or taking approximately 50 million cars off the road.
As the CEO of the textile recycling company, USAgain, I'm particularly interested in increasing the number of jobs provided by our industry, now employing more than 17,000 people in the U.S. This month the Environmental Protection Agency released their latest waste characterization data showing that only 15 percent of the 13 million tons of textile waste generated in 2010 were recovered for recycling. Capturing the 85 percent of textiles that are wasted presents an opportunity for more than 500 percent growth in the textile recycling industry and the addition of 90,000 green jobs.
Stimulating the recycling and reuse industry in general to create more jobs makes a lot of sense.
On a per-ton basis, sorting and processing recyclables alone sustains 10 times more jobs than landfilling or incineration... Product reuse is even more job-intensive than recycling. It is a knowledge-based industry, with a premium placed on accurate sorting, pricing, and good inventory management.
According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, the textile reclamation industry employs 85 times more workers than do landfills and incinerators on a per-ton basis.
While I support a national recycling goal of 75 percent wholeheartedly, I expect that in order to move the recycling needle significantly forward we need our legislators to step up to the plate and actually ban the disposal of materials that can and therefore should be recycled 100 percent. It worked for electronics, now banned from landfilling and incineration in 18 states and New York City. It has worked in other countries such as Norway that recently introduced a total ban on disposal of textiles in landfills.
Let's get serious about creating more green jobs. A ban on textiles in landfills would lend the political support for municipal government, business and non-profit groups to get together and finally bridge the 85 percent gap in textile recycling while creating much-needed jobs and a cleaner planet too.