EPA Initiative Aims To Increase Recycling Jobs: So, let 'eym at it!

Where there's smoke, there's fire - and if the increased amount of recycling activity is any indication, the fire ahead may be the growth of job opportunities in the recycling industry.

At least that's what the Environmental Protection Agency is hoping to accomplish with its $2.7 million grant program, the Jobs Through Recycling Initiative. The project's four components will work together to focus attention on the potential of recycling as an economic stimulus and job creator, ranging from material sorting to highly skilled manufacturing jobs.

"Essentially, we're trying to leverage existing networks and resources in states as well as working with other agencies," said Tim Jones of the EPA's Office of Solid Waste. To accomplish their goal, EPA has established four recycling and reuse business assistance centers in New York, California, Minnesota and North Carolina.

The centers will provide technical, financial and marketing support for new and existing recycling-related enterprises appropriate to each state's market development situation. "Each center is unique," said Jones. "For example, California is using the grant money to coordinate their market development zone program; New York is doing a lot with local organizations to foster the market for plastics recycling."

The initiative also has established recycling economic development advocate positions in Arizona, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and the Native American Siletz tribe in Oregon to attract materials processors and recycled product manufacturers to their areas. These professionals will work with economic development organizations as advocates for recycling businesses. They also will help facilities expand their capabilities and convert to the use of recovered materials.

Other focal points of the EPA project include a national network of information and collaborative efforts with other federal agencies. One program, the National Capital Area Project, builds on existing EPA recycling and economic development pilot programs in Baltimore and Richmond, Va., to give workers access to jobs and training.

A Tri-City Working Group "is instrumental in making things happen," said EPA's Deborah Gallman, who predicts that the group will continue as an entity at the end of the two-year grant period. Tri-City is made up of elected officials, environmentalists, community leaders and representatives from businesses. "The level of people working together is amazing," said Gallman. She calls recycling "the new industrial revolution - a new commodity, a new process, using everything you can."

Likewise, the EPA initiative will use every possible resource to develop recycling opportunities. A joint project between EPA and the Economic Development Administration (EDA), "Fostering Economic Development Through Recycling," will culminate in regional workshops to identify both opportunities and barriers to increased recycling investments in the Northeast. As part of the project, the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) commissioned a study conducted by Roy F. Weston Inc. entitled "Value Added to Recyclable Materials in the Northeast."

The researchers identified approximately 103,400 people employed in firms that process or use recyclables in manufacturing in nine NERC member states, which represents 2.7 percent of the 3.8 million manufacturing jobs in the region in 1991. Manufacturing firms comprise 75 percent of the total recycling employment, while processing firms comprise 25 percent. The report cites paper manufacturers as the largest recycling employer, capturing 46 percent of the total number of recycling jobs.

While there are no similar nationwide figures, EPA estimates that, in the past five years, recycling programs have grown 500 percent to more than 6,600. EPA's broadbrush attempt at job generation will work on many levels to tackle unemployment and solid waste problems at once.