November 22, 2021

2021 Economic Impact Study Shows Immense Value of Recycling Industry

This week’s Industry Voices was written by John Dunham, managing partner of John Dunham & Associates.

The recycling industry is all about loving commodities the second, third and fourth time around. According to the 2021 Economic Impact Study that John Dunham & Associates (JDA) recently completed for ISRI, the activities of the recycling industry in the United States generate nearly $116.84 billion annually in economic benefits. This analysis is the sixth in a series of studies that began in 2011. Over that period, the scrap recycling industry has grown from 137,635 jobs to 159,640 direct jobs at more than 12,000 facilities nationwide.

Not only does the recycling industry create good jobs (with an average wage of $77,300) at its own facilities and offices, but it helps support an additional 346,499 jobs in firms that supply the industry with goods and services such as equipment, energy, accounting, and trucking, as well as in those that produce products and services consumed by employees.

In other words, processors of recycled commodities do their part to provide opportunities to everyone from doctors and lawyers to plumbers, carpenters, waitresses and farmers in every part of the nation. The industry also generates $12.3 billion in tax revenues for governments across the country. This doesn’t even include the tens of thousands of people who earn their living by gathering valuable recyclable products and bringing them to a recycling center.

The overall impact of the recycling industry on the economy of the United States is about $116.8 billion, a significant number that accounts for $350 for every person in the country. To put it another way, the recycling industry in the U.S. is as large as the farm equipment manufacturing, soap manufacturing, and book publishing industries combined.

The recycling industry is also a major exporter, shipping more than $20 billion in products like ferrous and nonferrous metal, paper, cullet, and even precious metals to countries around the world.  This alone accounts for 50,360 of the industry’s jobs and $35.7 billion in economic activity, and represents over 0.5% of the nation’s exports by value.

By helping commodities to work a second time around, the recycling industry also creates inputs for manufacturers across the country. Paper and paperboard manufacturers rely on recyclers to provide them with the materials that they need to make pulp for boxes, newspaper, and the all important bathroom tissue. Nearly 75% of the aluminum used by America’s can manufacturers began as a recycled product at a recycling facility, and most carpets were once plastic bottles. As the opportunities to use recycled inputs grow, so to will this important industry, replacing mining, logging and refining operations, making the old new again, and helping to protect the earth’s air, water, and land for future generations.