If You Study Garbage You Will Not Be Unemployed

In 2000-2001, the Hartford, CT Housing Authority was the first in the nation to make building deconstruction required under its HUD HOPE VI grant to demolish the sprawling Stowe Village Public Housing Project. The project was a component of the Authority’s innovative Family Reunification program. Ten unemployed Black and Latino men and women were trained for the careful takedown of buildings and resale of recovered building materials. From the first day on site the workers were members of the local Laborers International Union with permanent jobs and full union benefits. One worker grew up in the very building he was deconstructing. “Now, I can pay my own way and have health insurance for my wife and children,” stated one trainee who went on to become a site foreman and purchase one of the new houses built on the site he had cleared.

Within two years building deconstruction was making an impact in Baltimore with the start up of Second Chance, a non-profit social enterprise started by a successful restaurateur, Mark Foster, with six trained workers. Today Second Chance employs 165 workers, which have been recruited from the city’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) rolls. Under a set of unique contracts between the enterprise and city agencies workers are paid to participate in a 16-week training program. Upon successful completion workers have a guaranteed job starting at from $10-$12 per hour. Second Chance is a business that encourages its workers, most of whom were hard to employ veterans, returning citizens and discouraged workers, to seek better jobs. Each year, 10-20 of these workers find new and better jobs; creating more openings for new trainees.

“Second Chance has turned the lives of workers around and helped them get a second chance,” stated Foster, where workers establish their work discipline, initiative and self-confidence. “This prepares employees for future jobs and career opportunities.” The Loading Dock and Humanim are other Baltimore based social enterprises that undertake deconstruction and resale of building materials.

In the composting sector, three companies from outside of Baltimore are operating in the city, collecting organic discards from businesses and households; Veterans Compost Company in Aberdeen, Compost Cab and Compost Crew in Washington, DC. Waste Neutral and Chesapeake Compost are Baltimore based composting companies. Waste Neutral provides composting services to schools and businesses. Compost companies report on the progress workers have made. Two compost workers have worked their way through college and now have IT jobs and a middle class income. Drivers earn in $20 per hour; other workers start at $11 per hour and can be at $16 within three years. Bonuses are also provided based on how well the private company does. At the Filbert Street Garden, operated by Chesapeake Child and Youth Development, two local students from Ben Franklin High School are being trained as garden managers. They will also operate a new social enterprise: a bike powered collection company that will collect material from the Federal Hill community. Composting of organic material will take place at the new compost pad built at the Garden. These workers, states Rodette Jones manager of the Filbert Street Garden, “ will be able to find jobs with the expanding private companies and agencies. “Pay Dirt”, a study by Brenda Platt, ILSR,May 2013, found that the wages for workers at compost facilities in Maryland earn from $16-$20 per hour.For every one million tons of organic material composted and used 1,400 full time jobs are created and would pay $23-$57 million in wages each year.

The Baltimore City Farm Program has 12 urban farms operating under the Recreation and Parks Department. The Baltimore Farm Alliance has 12 member farms. The largest, Real Food Farms, operates on 6 acres, with four workers and AmeriCorps volunteers.

The city of Baltimore is also an entrepreneur in this sector. Camp Small operates a wood and mulch enterprise capitalized by a $100,000 loan from the Bureau of Budget Resources within the Department of Finance (BBR). While operating temporarily at half capacity, the operation is saving the city $60,000 annually clean up costs. Three quarters of the products from Camp Small are sold at low prices to 15 companies and a dozen individual buyers. The remaining 25% of materials are made available at no cost to city agency projects. Camp Small is also repaying the initial loan from the city, which will reimburse the BBR revolving loan fund. (ilsr.org/baltimores-camp-small-zero-waste-initiative/).

Electronic scrap is the fastest growing component of the waste stream and the most valuable. Companies are talking to the city for access to the city’s mounting backlog materials. Recovery of valuable parts, alloys and refurbishing of machines offers employment and social progress among low-income residents. Highly successful social enterprises have emerged across the country that provide life saving and family saving jobs and social services. These include Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, Saint Vincent de Paul in Eugene and Lane County, OR and RecycleForce in Indianapolis. The RecycleForce program has reduced recidivism among its workers from 76% to 26%, an enormous contribution to reducing crime and its social and economic costs in Indianapolis as well as changing lives of workers and their families.

“…A big a part of our job, to produce a workforce,” says Dawn Grimes, vice president of business and enterprise development, RecycleForce. “The revenue we generate and the jobs we develop support our social mission—not the other way around. So we are reclaiming the value of electronics, but even more so we are helping people reclaim value in their lives.” Saint Vincent De Paul is a social enterprise and eWorks is private entity seeking to establish roots in Baltimore. Both are looking for non-profit partners to extend their successful joint ventures established in other cities.

Nor is the job of creating jobs in the recycling sector reserved for government programs and social enterprises. The private sector wants recycled materials generated by the private sector. RoadRunner, Inc. has just started serving businesses in Baltimore. Its novel approach uses existing infrastructure such as standard trucks to transport source-separated materials to processors and end user manufacturers. This business model allows Baltimore businesses to realize the economic benefits of recycling.

Based on private and social enterprises operating in other US cities, Baltimore could generate 500 new jobs in the reuse and composting sector within the next two years. In addition the more materials are recycled from the waste stream more jobs will accrue in processing plants as well as union jobs within the DPW. Recycling can create up to 10 jobs for every 10,000 tons of material recycled as opposed to 1 job per 10,000 tons for landfill or incineration. Based on the results of a recent study by the Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina, if just one percent of Baltimore residents recycled eight more newspapers per month, it would add $304,000 to Baltimore’s economy. The City of Oakland, CA has created 1,000 recycling sector jobs in the last 10 years.

‘Garbage’ offers a pathway to good jobs for city residents whether as a sanitation worker, community composter, lawyer, educator, entrepreneur or engineer. In the mid 1980s a county recycling coordinator made $17,000 annually, by the end of the 1980s the going rate for staff that knew how to divert materials from landfills and incinerator made $40,000. Today in a large city or county a recycling coordinator can earn up to $100,000. The key is to understand garbage and its potential for transformation of a city and working families.

Time to Start Investing in Baltimore’s Future

The jobs that emanate from the recycling, reuse and composting sector are based on the diverse materials that flow through the city and that are under the city’s control. To maximum the economic and social benefits available from the sector of Baltimore’s economy needs a conscious investment in realizing this potential.

This is a propitious time to make this investment in research and implementation of basic state of the art policies that can bring the potential of recycling to fruition in Baltimore. These include consideration of unit pricing for garbage services, an in-city processing facility, distributed composting network, co-collection, procurement and business recruitment efforts.

In addition to redeeming the lives of Baltimore’s hard-to-employ residents, the recycling sector offers direct savings to the city in the form of reduced solid waste management costs in addition to lowering social service costs. It costs the city $50-55 per ton to tip waste at the downtown BRESCO garbage incinerator. These costs are expected to rise in the next few years, as the aging facility needs repair and new pollution control equipment. The city will also have to pay for expansion of the ash landfill at its Quarantine Road landfill in Hawkins Point to accommodate BRESCO’s residue. It now costs the city just $20 per ton to recycle materials. The city recycles 20,000 tons per year providing a $600,00 annual savings. If the city doubles its recycling rate, as Mayor Pugh has urged, the savings will be $1.2 million annually. If the city were to reach 70% diversion the city coffers would benefit by $2 million annually.

The next step is for the city to undertake the necessary due diligence to determine just how state of the art policies, programs and enterprises can be adapted to Baltimore and what their economic benefits might be. Dedicating the annual savings that are now accruing with each ton of material recycled, to be matched by private foundations, investors and private corporations can be the start of an investment strategy. The state of Maryland should also be considered as a source of investment to its largest city just as California, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey have invested in the recycling, composting and reuse sector infrastructure with funds available to local government, private companies and community enterprises.

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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.