The infrastructure for recycling can be improved to double the recycling rate within a few years.© www.recycline.com
A full throttle effort to fund "shovel-ready" projects could forecast a green disaster and a misuse of scarce stimulus dollars. Naturally, there are some sectors that can have "shovel-ready" projects for cities to use stimulus money responsibly. Energy and water conservation are two examples that cities could immediately fund for energy efficient buildings with modern lighting, passive and photovoltaic solar energy, cistern systems and low flow faucets.
But the most obvious sector to focus on is the solid waste sector, more aptly described as "resource management." Every city and county is responsible for its resource management; and every jurisdiction is ready to galvanize its transition to increased recycling and composting. Some cities have already reached levels of 50% to 70% recycling and composting rates, but the national average remains at a low 34% since many other cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia and San Juan are at the abysmal levels of 10% or less.
Even at this modest national recycling rate, the sector employs 1.1 million workers with a $37 million payroll. These are more jobs than in the automobile industry. (Unionized recycling workers can make $20 per hour plus full benefits in companies that are highly profitable. Without unions, these jobs are at the minimum wage levels and provide no benefits.)
The infrastructure for recycling and composting can be improved to easily double the recycling rate within a few years. At 75% recycling, some 1.5 million new jobs will be created. Indirect jobs stemming from these direct jobs could add another million workers. The total of 2.5 million jobs created represents three-quarters of the 4 million jobs the Obama Administration seeks to produce. This level of recycling would reduce air and ash pollution as well as industrial energy demand equivalent to 21% of the country’s current coal fired electricity capacity. The transportation and extraction of virgin materials from forests and mines would also be dramatically reduced.
A Timely Investment
An estimated $10 to $20 billion is the investment required to reach these resource management goals. Over several years, these funds can pay for equipment, training (including college certificate and degree programs for facility managers), public awareness, peer-to-peer technical assistance from city managers who have mastered recycling and composting in their community, and real estate acquisition for industrial parks to process materials and manufacture products locally to strengthen the U.S. economy (as opposed to shipping materials overseas). The money can flow to cities through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) channels or the myriad of other energy, resource, alternative fuel, and workforce and community economic development programs available.
The stimulus investment to transform solid waste management into resource management should be "sunset." This money is transitory. Cities, counties and their constituent businesses already pay from $40 to $70 billion annually to dispose of resources as waste. It costs far less to relocate recycled materials to industrial and agricultural markets. The stimulus investment would essentially be the bridge for the transition of waste to resource. After the initial investment, traditional budgets can resume at much lower levels, allowing for city services to be more cost effective and the U.S. economy more efficient and competitive. On the other end of the bridge, the waste stream will be a resource stream supporting employment, manufacturing, tax base expansion and pollution reduction.
Sixty percent to 70% of the country’s total municipal solid waste and C&D waste (totaling under 500 million tons annually) is readily reusable and recyclable as rich compost, building material and aggregate. Markets are high and steady for quality material and most importantly, local. Shipping to China will no longer be required.
The blueprint for spending on resource management should follow other federal formulae for healthcare, highways and education. Local government must commit to action to be eligible for federal grants. Thus jurisdiction programs like California’s Recycling Market Development Zones and the industrial parks being developed by Hawaii County, HA and Alachua County, FL would have their investments matched by federal dollars. Jurisdictions that commit bond and budget money towards transition goals and objectives ought to qualify for federal grants. No subsidies should go towards landfilling and incineration.
This transition could be accomplished within the next three to seven years. After that, the remaining materials that were unable to be composted or recycled could be subjected to research and development programs for restoration. Bans and redesign of products and packages are part of the stage of the transition to achieve the social, economic and environmental benefits of a near-zero waste economy. Industry responsibility programs have already been implemented for batteries, oil, paints and tires.
If the Obama Administration wants fast, green and dramatic results for its stimulus package, the best place to start is at the garbage can. Every citizen, every day, touches some thing that is pitched as garbage, be it
in the workplace, at play, or in the home. By using our fiscal resources to ensure sound management of our natural resources, everybody is a winner.
CONTACT: Institute of Local Self-Reliance
NEIL SELDMAN PhD is the President for the Institute of Local Self-Reliance.