Recycling Means Business: Job Creation Through Product Reuse

Product reuse is even more job-intensive than recycling. It is a knowledge-based industry, with a premium placed on accurate sorting and pricing, and good inventory management.

One reuse company is Urban Ore in Berkeley, California. This company handles a broad range of reusable goods, from building materials to books and art. Materials are sorted and cleaned, and sometimes repaired. For the most part, what does not sell becomes scrap. Urban Ore calculates value-added monthly, which ranges from 30% to 60%. This reflects the large contribution its staff and handling system make to its monthly income. As in recycling, Urban Ore is the first link in a value-added chain that involves and employs hundreds of remodeling and landscape contractors, artists, inventors, builders, collectors, property managers, homeowners, and second-hand dealers.

The reuse industry competes with mass-marketed commodities such as diapers, tires, and plastic, glass, and metal drink containers. Each year Americans spend billions of dollars on these new products. Some of this money remains in communities where the products are purchased, but most leaves the community for the home offices of the corporations. A handful of companies dominate the markets for soft drinks, disposable diapers, and new tires.

By contrast, reuse industry alternatives – refillable bottle washing plants, cloth diaper services, tire retreading enterprises – create wealth and jobs for local communities. Such reuse companies tend to be small and locally owned and operated, providing local jobs and increased capital retention. Reuse is thus a tool for miniaturizing global and national economies, making them more sustainable.

There are 1,700 tire retreading operations in North America. About 95% of these are small businesses. Reusable diaper services employ 10,000 to 12,500 people. Each business employs 5 to 50 workers. A complete switch to diaper services would generate 72,000 jobs nationwide in this service industry alone.

Other reuse efforts can have similar impacts. For instance, if building deconstruction were fully integrated into the demolition industry, at least 100,000 jobs could be created in this sector.