English Bird


Many people associate recycling as something that is good for the environment. But not many realize the number of jobs created and what a significant economic driver the recycling industry plays in our state and country. In fact, nationally the recycling industry represents more jobs than the car-manufacturing industry. A general rule of thumb is that for every landfill job there could be 10 recycling jobs for that same amount of material handled. The recycling industry is a $236-billion industry compared to the $45-billion waste industry.


A new report released by the New Mexico Recycling Coalition (NMRC) details the estimated number of jobs in the recycling industry and predicts how many jobs could be gained through increased recycling activities. It is estimated that close to 5,000 new direct, indirect and induced jobs will be created in NM when the state’s recycling rate reaches 34 percent.


With recent investments and commitments made in both rural and urban areas, NM is poised to meet this goal. Recycling activity is measured by the New Mexico Environment Department’s Solid Waste Bureau, which calculates the state’s 2011 recycling rate at 21 percent of the municipal solid waste stream. That rate has witnessed a 16-percent average annual increase over the previous five years. If this trend continues, reaching the national average of 34 percent could be attained by 2015.


Jobs in recycling are created in four different sectors: collection, processing, manufacturing and reuse. First, the material must be collected. Then the material is processed at a facility for sale to the end-markets. The material then becomes part of the manufacturing sector, becoming a new product made from recycled-content material. The fourth sector is the reuse industry. The majority of jobs in the collection and reuse sectors remain in state. Jobs in the processing sector occur both in-state and out-of-state, and currently the manufacturing primarily takes place out-of-state and even out-of-country.


Not only does job creation ring positive bells for local and state leaders, but developing more end-markets in our state will create a higher demand for the material. For example, if a small-scale recycled glass tile business opens up in Las Cruces, that business will then have created not only jobs and tax revenues; it will also create a stronger demand for that material to be collected and recycled locally. We see this already with aluminum cans. Many civic or youth groups collect cans to sell as a fundraiser. That particular material has established a strong market because the demand for aluminum is relatively constant. Most aluminum cans are recycled within a month right back into aluminum cans.


The report uses established recycling industry job calculator formulas based on the amount of material generated in our state. It advocates for the use of solid-waste rate structures using a model called Pay-As-You-Throw and solid-waste bans in order to increase recycling participation and reduce solid-waste creation. The rate structure adapts solid-waste management fees so they function like electricity or utility billing—you pay for what you use, or in this case, for what you throw away. Many of the more than 7,000 US communities that have adopted the Pay-As-You-Throw rate structure across the country have seen a 45-percent decrease in their overall solid-waste generation, with significant leaps in recycling tonnage. NM currently has three communities with Pay-As-You-Throw models in place.


The report was conducted as part of NMRC’s multi-tiered Rural Recycling Development project, funded by a Department of Energy grant. The report sheds light on the value of recycling activity as an economic driver and provides case studies of how communities can reach higher recycling rates. It also describes small-scale economic development niche business models suitable for NM.


To view the report, visit www.recyclenewmexico.com. Go to the NM Recycling Directory to find out what and where to recycle in your community.




English Bird is executive director of the New Mexico Recycling Coalition





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