Recycling creates employment: less garbage, more employment

The environmental recycling benefits that we have seen in previous chapters may fail to convince those who lack a developed ecological understanding or awareness of the environment. However, everyone is aware of the importance of employment, especially after witnessing the last economic crisis.

In this sense, it’s a fact that the waste sector currently creates jobs and direct employment: in Catalonia,[1]around 28,000 people in 2013 (0.7% of the active population); in Spain,[2] over 140,000 people in 2010 (representing 0.6% of the active population); and in Europe[3](EU27), a total of 1.8 million jobs according to 2006 data; in the USA this figure was 1 million in 2002. Of course, data regarding indirect employment must also be added here.

The treatment of recycled waste involves different types of operations that are more complex than simply burying or burning garbage and therefore requires more work positions. The following table shows the jobs created in the USA[4] and in the European Union[5] (EU) for every 10,000 tons of waste treated per year, depending on the operations carried out:

Although the data is disparate, it’s clear that in the USA the scale of jobs, in a material recovery plant is x10 times higher than in landfill or incineration and this increases significantly in the recycling plants (paper x18 times, glass x26 or plastic x93). The European data follows the same increasing employment scale, x10 times.

Waste recycling increases employment generation x10 times

What’s more, employment growth in the Metropolitan Area of ​​Barcelona[6] has been verified. In the past, when most of the waste was taken to landfill (in Sant Joan Valley, Garraf), around 80 people were working, nowadays there are almost 800 people working in the treatment and waste management plants. Once again, we find the same multiplier factor, x10 times, in employment generation.

As we have already mentioned, 42% of the waste generated in Europe is recycled, and 1.8 million people are employed in the recycling sector. Just think, if a recycling level of 70% was attained, over 500,000 new jobs[7] would be created (remember some of the unemployment figures for 2016: Catalonia[8] = 659,600 people, Spain[9] = 4,850,800 people, and Europe[10] = 22 Million people).

Recycling 70% of EU waste would create 500,000 jobs

The recycling of the organic[11] fraction presents a similar opportunity. Remember that, at the moment, in Spain, only 17% of organic matter is collected separately and it is estimated that this generates almost 11,500 direct jobs. Well, if 80% of the organic matter generated in households and from commercial activities was selectively collected and treated, almost 5,200 jobs would be created, so we would achieve a total of 16,700 jobs related to the organic recycling fraction.

Want to know more?

  The book Stop garbage. The truth about recycling, Alex Pascual, February 2019

i Summary of Friends of the Earth report, “More work, less garbage” (ENG)

i “The generation of employment in the management of the organic matter of urban waste within the framework of the generalization of the selective collection,” Trade Union Institute of Labor, Environment, and Health (ISTAS) of Workers’ Commissions (CAST)

i “The waste incineration in figures,” Greenpeace, 2010 (CAST)

[1].  Generalitat de Catalunya

[2]. “Economic study about the environmental sector in Spain 2011,” Fundación Fórum Ambiental.

[3]. “More jobs, less waste,” Friends of Earth, 2010

[4]. “More jobs, less waste,” Friends of Earth, 2010, and also found in “The waste incineration in figures,” Greenpeace, 2010

[5]. “A step forward in the sustainable consumption of resources: thematic strategy on the prevention and recycling of waste, “Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament, Brussels 2005

[6]. “Waste generates employment,” El Periódico de Cataluña,” 17 January 2015

[7]. “More jobs, less waste,” Friends of Earth, 2010

[8]. Data INE 3th trimester 2015

[9]. Ibidem

[10]. EUROSTAT, November de 2015

[11]. “The employment generation in biowaste management within the framework of the generalization of the selective collection,” Trade Union Institute of Labor, Environment, and Health (ISTAS) of Workers’ Commissions

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