Recycling Sector Has 30-Year Record of Impressive Growth


For Immediate Release Contact Neil Seldman Ph.D. , (202) 698-1610
January 11, 2002


Washington, D.C. – Recent economic and employment news has been somewhat grim. The U.S. unemployment rate rose to 5.8 percent in December 2001 – the highest in six years. The economy may be in recession according to the most common definition Ü two consecutive quarters of shrinking gross domestic product. GDP shrank in the third quarter of 2001 and many analysts believe it also shrank in the fourth quarter, although the Commerce Department will not release fourth-quarter data until the end of this month. The airline industry is suffering and has laid off more than 100,000 people.

“One industry stands out as a proven job creator and economic growth generator,” states Neil Seldman, President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) in Washington, DC. “Recycling!” From 1967 to 2000, this industry experienced annual growth rates of 8.3% and 12.7% in the number of jobs and gross annual sales respectively. In contrast, total U.S. employment during the same period averaged only 2.1% growth annually. The recycling industry outperformed fast food (compound annual growth in sales of 11.0% from 1970 to 1997) and health care (compound annual growth in expenditures of 10.3% from 1967 to 2000).

In the year 2000, U.S. recycling industries included more than 56,000 public and private sector facilities that sustained 1.1 million jobs and had $236 billion in gross annual sales. In comparison, in 1967, the U.S. recycling industries consisted of approximately 8,000 companies that employed 79,000 people and had $4.6 billion in sales.

The country cannot afford for the recycling industry to stop growing. “When a community cuts its waste stream in half, as many cities and towns have done, they both reduce solid waste management costs and build the local and regional economy,” according to Kelly Lease, a recycling analyst at ILSR.

There is plenty of room for continued expansion in the recycling industry. In 1998, even though we recycled 28% of the municipal waste we generated, we still disposed of more than 158 million tons of municipal solid waste and 135 million tons of construction and demolition debris. This waste could fill landfill capacity equal to the volume of more than 200 Empire State Buildings. Recycling of discarded materials will reduce the need for future disposal capacity, sustain jobs, and contribute to the nation’s economic health.

“The U.S. also produces 350 million tons of agricultural wastes that are economically recoverable on an environmentally sustainable basis,” according to David Morris, Director of ILSR’s Carbohydrate Economy project.

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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.