Since 2012, Manufacturing Day has become an annual event to raise public awareness of the importance of manufacturing to our economy. Celebrated the first Friday of October, this year it is next Friday, 10/4/19. While most people probably don’t think of “recycling” as manufacturing, it is in fact, a first link in the manufacturing supply chain. Whether you are recycling at home or at the office, you’ve only collected potentially recyclable materials and diverted them from the waste stream. Recycling doesn’t happen until a product that someone wants to buy is made from the items you’ve collected.
That’s where “recyclers” come in. We take those mixed up materials and prepare them to meet the specifications of the end-user so that they can be substitutes for virgin raw materials. Here in Maryland,
- Recycling generates more than $1.1 billion annually in economic activity.
- Recycling brings in more than $1.4 million in federal, state and local government revenue.
- Recycling directly employs 5,497 jobs paying $3.8 million in wages.
- Scrap steel is #9 of the top ten exports from the Port of Baltimore.
As I frequently state, recycling is not new. The scrap recycling industry is one of the world’s first green industries. In pre-industrial times, there is evidence that bronze and other metals were collected and melted for re-use. However, in modern times, the intrinsic value of scrap and the benefits of using and re-using material has been eclipsed by the waste management benefit of recycling.
Recycling Creates More Jobs Than Disposal
Another benefit that has been overlooked is the job creation potential of recycling. According to a 2017 report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance for Baltimore, for every 10,000 tons of material disposed of as waste, one job is created. For every 10,000 tons of material recycled, four jobs are created. According to the report, within three years, Baltimore could create 500 direct jobs.
Recycling is a first link in the manufacturing supply chain and YOU are the first link in the recycling chain. The “Green Fence,” was implemented by China in 2013 to ensure that imported bales of recyclables, especially plastic and paper, did not contain garbage and other materials. Unfortunately, the quality did not improve and in July 2017, the Chinese government launched the “National Sword,” which resulted in the outright ban of some recyclables.
Many of the “green” jobs associated with recycling have been created in the countries that import our exported recyclables. One of the barriers to expanding the domestic consumption of recyclables has been complaints of an unreliable, clean supply. Scrap moves where demand dictates and prices are highest. For years, the export market offered the best prices so domestic manufacturers had no incentive to invest in expansion. Moreover, the labor cost to clean up the dirtier material coming out of residential single stream programs was cheaper overseas. It turns out that much of the material sorted out of our recyclables was not recycled after all. It was disposed of improperly, often resulting in pollution.
Now, the situation is reversed, providing an opportunity to invest in domestic manufacturing infrastructure. After almost two decades of paper mill closures, 2019 has welcomed the announcement of several new projects adding substantial capacity, including a mill nearby that is owned by a Chinese paper company.
Glass is especially problematic to recycle because it is heavy, which increases transportation costs. Unless a processor is nearby the economics are generally not favorable. Most glass is crushed and used as landfill cover. Yet the energy savings in converting glass to glass, versus its virgin counterparts, is significant. There are a couple proposals that would benefit the mid-Atlantic region. The most successful glass recycling is in the mountain states that have a deposit return system and some of the bottles are actually refilled.
Celebrate Recycling on Manufacturing Day
Manufacturing has changed dramatically and statistics show a decline that we have observed first hand here in Baltimore. However, according to the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, the data also show that manufacturers which are sole proprietors are growing, They site modern technology, such as 3-priniting and on-line sales platforms, as contributors to their growth. Maker spaces and incubators, many of which are located in abandoned sites of legacy manufacturers, allow collaboration and foster innovation. Perhaps these new models will find the solutions to some of our hurdles in developing the “green economy.”
On Friday, American manufacturers will promote the public image of manufacturing, its contributions and its future. The first green industry will be right there with them. Recycling is not “separating our trash.” It is a vital link in the manufacturing supply chain of raw materials for today’s green economy.