Does recycling create jobs?

Adam Johnson
Jul 25, 2018 · 4 min read

Yes.

Of course it does. It’s obvious and doesn’t really need to be thought about for more than a few seconds to realise that a landfill (or incinerator) is geared to reduce labour. Recycling is not and cannot be.

The more interesting question is “How many jobs does recycling create?”

And even more interesting yet, “Are the extra jobs created worth it?”

The Australian context

Access Economics did a study in 2009 [Word doc] for the Australian Government, and concluded that recycling creates 9.2 jobs per 10,000 tonnes of waste. Landfill creates 2.8 jobs for the same amount of waste. These are the direct jobs.

Access Economics goes on to derive how many indirect jobs are created with an estimated “Type II multiplier” of 1.84 for the whole waste sector. The Type II multiplier is a factor that you apply to the number of direct jobs to work out how many indirect jobs are created.

I think it would have been more intuitive to have a higher multiplier for recycling because it has longer tendrils into the economy. That is, recycled materials create jobs in logistics, remanufacturing and on and on. I guess that’s pretty hard to calculate.

The way Access Economics uses the multiplier is to multiply the jobs created in each sector by 0.84 (not sure why not 1.84, maybe something in how the multiplier is defined). So recycling creates 7.7 indirect jobs compared with landfill creating 2.4. Totally, recycling makes 16.9 jobs per 10,000 tonnes, landfill 5.2.

So whenever you hear somebody say that recycling creates 3x as many jobs as landfill, this is where the number comes from.

North America

More studies have been completed in the US and Canada on the question. An excellent 2014 paper by The Conference Board of Canada (straightforward sign-up process to gain access) sums up the following (all about the same vintage as the Access Economics work).

More Jobs, Less Pollution: Growing the Recycling Economy in the U.S., Tellus Institute 2011 [pdf]

2010 Recycling Economic Information Study Update for Illinois, DSM Environmental 2010 [pdf]

The Economic Benefits of Recycling in Ontario — Final Report, AECOM, 2009 [pdf]

Florida Recycling Economic Information Study, RW Beck, 2000 [pdf]

California Recycling Economic Information Study, RW Beck, 2001 [pdf]

I’ve replicated its summary table on job creation for comparison with the Access Economics results for Australia. Did I mention that the paper is excellent?

The Type II multiplier of 1.84 is mid-range. The 1.7 jobs created per 1,000 tonnes of waste diverted in Australia is on the low side. I think that we actually do better than that in Australia, and would love to see the Access Economics report revisited.

The Conference Board report goes on to look at the economic benefits from increasing diversion, which is well worth a read. More on that later.

Jobs created in particular recycling activities

Of course, recycling ain’t recycling. There are many different activities covered by “recycling”, and we instinctively know they create different numbers of jobs per tonne.

The Tellus Institute report has a quite wonderful table of job creation in different recycling activities:

Convert those numbers to volumes, and things get very real for plastic.

Are these extra jobs created worth it?

So more jobs. But recycling can be more expensive than landfill, particularly where there are not levies or whatever. Are the jobs worth it?

The Conference Board paper answers that too. Yes. Yes, recycling is worth it. Recycling adds between $100–500/tonne (depending on the study) of value to the economy.

No doubt somebody has done the modelling to show the jobs aren’t worth the price, or perhaps just knows it couldn’t possibly be worth it without even doing the modelling because economics. Or something.

Let us be clear, I am no economist. However, on the face of all of the work done, it really does seem that recycling creates jobs, and recycling adds value to the economy.

We should do more of it.

A world without waste

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