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Recycling Report: U.S. Burying and Burning Millions of Jobs

November 21, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - As many as 1.5 million U-S jobs - 68,000 in Texas - could be created in the next two decades by boosting the nation's recycling efforts, according to a new report from a coalition of environmental and labor groups.

One of the obstacles to a "greener" economy is that waste companies often can make larger profits and hire fewer workers by simply disposing of recyclable materials, according to Bob Gregory, chief executive officer of Texas Disposal Systems, which handles all residential waste for the city of Austin.

Gregory doesn't doubt the report's job predictions, pointing out that there's a lot more to recycling than simply collecting from curbside bins.

"Recycling occurs when a product is made, and when that product is resold. That's the completion of the recycling loop. And there are a lot of opportunities for jobs."

Nearly half of his roughly 600 employees owe their jobs to the company's recycling operations, Gregory says.

About a third of the nation's waste that could be reused, recycled, or composted is diverted from landfills and incinerators, the study says.

Since there's no shortage of space for landfills in much of the state, says Stacy Guidry, Austin program director at the Texas Campaign for the Environment, there's not much incentive for some businesses to recycle aggressively - especially when they're paid more for burying more.

"A lot of the time, it's more lucrative for businesses to bring in as much waste as possible. But what we're doing is burying our jobs. And these incinerators burn our jobs."

Her group is calling on the Obama administration to declare a national recycling goal of 75 percent of the waste stream in 20 years. In addition to creating jobs, the report says, pollution and greenhouse gases would be reduced, energy and water would be saved, and health-care costs lowered.

Used recyclable materials are a valuable "natural resource," Gregory says, which businesses are happy to utilize when it's profitable to do so. As long as the public is willing to participate in the recycling process and lawmakers provide supportive policies, he thinks companies increasingly will invest in the industry.

"I think the government has realized that, and I think the public is ready to embrace that. Businesses are ready to embrace it and pay the cost to properly manage that waste stream, which is growing exponentially each year."

Gregory supports local-level ordinances which encourage and promote recycling, as well as federal rules, such as proposed legislation (HR 2284 and S 1270) which would limit exports of electronic waste to other countries.

The report is online at recyclingworkscampaign.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX