Economy Reaps Benefits from Recycling

Along with their environmental benefits, recycling and reuse are good for the economy, according to a study commissioned by the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC), Battleboro, Vt. The report on 10 northeastern states, conducted by R.W. Beck, documents the recycling and reuse industry's contribution to the area's economy.

There are more than 13,000 recycling and reuse establishments in the Northeast that employ a total of 206,000 people, according to the study. These operations generate $6.8 million in annual payroll and $44 billion in annual revenues.

The approximately 5,000 reuse businesses refurbish used, old or broken equipment. These companies sell a variety of used merchandise, with some remanufacturing computers and electronic appliances.

Recycling operations that collect and process recovered materials and manufacture products using recyclables were divided into 19 categories, such as paper and steel manufacturers, composting, and plastic and rubber-product manufacturing.

The majority of the recycling operations are involved in the early stages of recycling - collection and processing. For instance, 3,400 establishments collect recyclables, with 66 percent privately operated and 34 percent publicly operated.

There are 2,500 establishments involved in processing recyclables. These businesses use many technologies to sort, clean, consolidate, treat and densify recyclable materials to manufacture finished products. The majority of processors are classified as recyclable material wholesalers, which include metal scrap yards and companies that sort, bale and market recyclable paper.

When compared to collectors and processors, manufacturers are fewer in number but larger in size. For instance, 90 regional steel mills employ an average of 344 workers each. Comparatively, there are 2,194 recyclable materials wholesalers that employ an average of 12 individuals each.

Recyclable material wholesalers include paper stock dealers, scrap metal processors and other operations that sort and remove contaminants as well as densify recovered materials.

According to the study, these wholesalers:

- Employ more than 26,000 people;

- Generate annual payrolls of $760 million; and

- Generate $8.3 billion in annual revenues.

Paper, paperboard and de-inked market pulp mills use a range of waste paper to produce many finished paper grades. These businesses:

- Employ more than 24,000 people;

- Generate annual payrolls of $1.08 billion; and

- Generate $6.9 billion in annual revenues.

Plastic converters convert recycled plastic - clean flake or pellet - into an intermediate or end-product. Compared to the other types of recycling or reuse businesses, these facilities are newer to the region's recycling industry and

- Employ more than 31,000 people;

- Generate annual payrolls of $880 million; and

- Generate $6.3 billion in annual revenues.

Steel mills, the largest recycling and reuse contributors to the Northeast's economy, produce iron and steel slabs, billets, bar, plate and sheet from scrap and raw materials. These mills:

- Employ more than 31,000 people;

- Generate annual payrolls of $1.5 billion; and

- Result in $10.4 billion in annual revenues.

Cumulatively, these four categories account for approximately 55 percent of all employees, 63 percent of total payroll, and 72 percent of the Northeast's total recycling and reuse industry as a whole, according to the study.

The average salary of $37,700 per employee for these four categories is 14 percent higher than the average of $33,000 per employee for all categories. Also, the average number of employees per establishment for the four main categories is higher than the average number of employees for all categories.

NERC believes the study will help to convince policymakers and economic developers that the recycling industry is worthy of public and private sector resource investments. According to the council, other industries such as biotech and electronics have used similar economic information to demonstrate their industry's importance to an area's economy. Additionally, NERC will use the study as a baseline to track new developments and future changes.