This Is Plastics: The New Circular Economy III: Recycling and Reuse Drives Economic Activity, Job Creation


The New Circular Economy III: Recycling and Reuse Drives Economic Activity, Job Creation

Investments in recycling infrastructure support new jobs and spur economic activity, while also increasing the supply of recycled plastic.


The plastics industry is the eighth largest industry in the United States, supporting the manufacture of innumerous, affordable consumer goods from cosmetics and medication to automobiles and renewable energy infrastructure. The industry’s far-ranging reach is particularly impactful at state and local levels, where production facilities directly spur economic activity and create job opportunities for residents. In fact, the plastics industry employs more than 1.5 million Americans across the country and additional investments into recycling infrastructure could create one million additional jobs by 2030—getting us that much closer to an economically sustainable, fully circular economy.

Recycling and reuse creates jobs

Recycling, reuse and remanufacture are not only more sustainable options for waste management, but they are also effective tools for job creation. According to a report from the Tellus Institute, recycling facilities create at least 90 jobs per 10,000 tons of waste due to more labor intensive processes, compared to only one job per 10,000 tons of waste at waste disposal facilities, like landfills and incineration sites. In fact, 86% of total U.S. waste management jobs already come from recycling activities. With U.S. recycling rates sitting at about 34% for all materials, there is significant potential to improve and expand recycling services and create quality, well-paying jobs across the country.

Increased investment in recycling infrastructure by state and local governments can increase job creation along the entire value chain of post-consumer materials—from collection and processing to the manufacture of new materials. However, effective solutions will always require multi-stakeholder engagement. Alongside government, the plastics industry is already investing billions in new initiatives and innovative technology to fortify domestic recycling systems and make recycling more effective and efficient—all while creating more jobs. Under its Every Bottle Back program, the American Beverage Association awarded a $5 million grant to the recycling company Evergreen in 2021 to double production capacity—adding 20 new jobs—at its processing facility in Clyde, Ohio, the largest employer in the area. Collaboration like this will ensure job growth in this vital industry.

Increased capacity to meet higher demand for recycled content means more jobs

Demand for recycled plastic content is increasing, which means that capacity for the recovery and processing of post-consumer plastic must also increase. More recycling facilities mean more jobs, jobs that support a circular economy where no material is wasted. While mechanical recycling systems will continue to be key to this goal, advanced or molecular recycling, which use heat or chemicals to break down post-consumer plastics into virgin-like material, will also be crucial. With more investment, the Unites States has an opportunity to become a global hub for environmentally responsible production and end-of-life processes for plastics.

A 2019 report found that planned advanced recycling projects in the United States could create 40,000 new jobs and nearly $10 billion in revenue over the next few years. A report from the Center for Houston’s Future and the University of Houston found that the Houston metropolitan area alone, which comprises the largest concentration of plastics manufacturing in the world, can support up to 100 new advanced recycling facilities by 2030, creating thousands of new jobs in the area. Continued industry and government investment into new advanced recycling facilities is needed to boost the supply of recycled plastic material and realize the full economic potential of the material.

Government is creating new jobs by reenergizing recycling systems

With a circular, low-waste economy becoming increasingly important, lawmakers and industry leaders are focusing their attention on reenergizing the recycling industry to create new jobs and economic opportunity. In fact, President Joe Biden has made the creation of “good paying” manufacturing jobs for working Americans a key priority of his administration. To support this, 18 states, with West Virginia being the most recent, have already passed legislation to regulate advanced recycling facilities as manufacturing instead of solid waste, permitting these innovative facilities to keep more valuable material in the economy and create jobs along the way. These much-needed facilities will support strong job growth in the industry as recycling capacity expands throughout the country.

Local governments are also making a difference to boost job growth in the recycling industry—key to state-level economies. The City of Los Angeles reportedly generates over $600 million in revenue and wages per year via recycling efforts, being just a small part of California’s multibillion dollar recycling industry. In Oregon, the Oregon Metro recently established an investment and innovation grant program that supports local efforts by businesses and non-profits to foster economic opportunities for marginalized groups, particularly communities of color. Since 2018, the program has awarded $8.5 million in grants to local businesses and non-profits and leveraged over $18 million in additional private investments to support jobs in projects improving the region’s recycling system. In 2019, Washington state created the Recycling Development Center to facilitate the expansion of domestic recycling markets by building new plastic recovery facilities that will support up to 90 new jobs per facility. 

By working together, the plastics industry and lawmakers can create more job opportunities in the recycling industry while also improving recycling systems and increasing the supply of recycled plastic content. This will spur further economic growth throughout the country while also building a stronger circular economy for plastics.

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