Recycling key to boost job growth and economic development

A UK study has revealed that recycling creates 10 times more jobs per tonne than sending waste to landfill or incineration

June 20, 2012

A UK study has revealed that recycling creates 10 times more jobs per tonne than sending waste to landfill or incineration through the creation of jobs in collection, sorting, transportation and reprocessing. As a result, it is vital that South Africa begins to recognise recycling and the increased use of recyclable goods as a viable tool in job creation and economic development.

This is according to Dorota Boltman, Divisional Director of Rainbow Paper Management – a group company of JSE-listed Metrofile Holdings Limited – who says that not only does recycling save precious resources, but if promoted and implemented successfully it can be used as an economic growth tool. “The UK study conducted by Friends of the Earth found that if 70% of waste collected by municipalities in the UK was recycled 51,400 jobs would be created.”

A similar report conducted in the US by the Tellus Institute found that a national recycling rate of 75% would create 1.5 million jobs, of which nearly half would be in the manufacturing of new products from recycled materials.

“These significant figures result from the fact that that processing recyclables is quite a labour-intensive exercise and therefore creates more jobs than waste collection and disposal, which conversely utilises heavy equipment that can handle large amounts of material with few employees.”

In the recycled paper preparation process alone there are multiple job roles including collectors, sorters, baler operators, forklift drivers, cleaners and truck drivers to deliver the product to the mills, says Boltman. “At Rainbow Paper Management, a sorter or cleaner handles an average of 2.3 tonnes of paper a day, with a team of people taking around 40 tonnes a day through the whole preparation cycle.”

However, it must be noted that in order to experience a huge difference in paper recycling numbers and related job creation, an increased use and purchasing of paper products made out of recyclable fibre must occur, says Boltman. “Consumers must realise that the product they buy and use at the office or home is of vital importance to boosting this industry. If consumers choose to rather spend money on only recycled products, there will be a growth in the need for paper mill production, which will relate to an increase in recyclable tonnages and job growth in every stage of processing and transport.”

The call should come from government to set recycling rates and put measures in place to hinder retailers from utilising products that cannot be recycled and rather opt for recycled goods, she says.

Boltman says another benefit of job creation in the recycling industry is that there are job positions for people with almost any level of skills and education. “In terms of buying and selling paper, no qualifications are needed as trading experience is most beneficial to these roles. A sound knowledge of paper grading or fibre, an understanding of market requirements, and hard work, all together make a good waste paper trader. Whereas the processing of paper is far more involved so there are roles for all skill levels.”

Furthermore, recycling jobs are in fact incredibly stable and fast growing because there will always be waste given an ever-growing population. “In addition to this, recycling is a very attractive and lucrative industry because there are many materials that can be easily recycled that contain rare or hard to obtain metals for which prices have increased significantly recently. All of these factors contribute to making recycling jobs not only abundant, but also very financially satisfying as well.”

South Africa should follow the example of the European Parliament (EP) which recently passed a resolution towards a Resource Efficient Europe with the hopes of paving the way for the European Union to have Zero Waste by 2020. Through the resolution, the EP and European Commission join forces to attempt to bring residual waste close to zero and calls on the European Commission to make proposals to ban landfill in Europe and to phase-out the incineration of recyclable and compostable waste by 2020.

“Increased recycling – including paper, glass, plastic, cans and other metals – and the use of recycled products should be seen as a feasible solution to stimulate job growth and economic development,” concludes Boltman.