As our leaders scour the state looking for job opportunities for Hoosiers, they’re neglecting one potential source they see every day … one that could bring thousands of jobs to Indiana: the trash can.
While Indiana wrestles with a 7.5 percent seasonally adjusted unemployment rate and our leaders chase any and all reasonable ideas for job creation, we’re virtually burying jobs in landfills by disposing of materials that could be recycled and used in consumer goods.
We’re talking about thousands of jobs. A new study by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University confirmed that, if Indiana’s antiquated policies are updated to encourage more recycling, we could realistically create at least 10,000 jobs in Indiana.
It’s time for our leaders to put an end to our job-disposal habits and promote the policies necessary to create jobs that not only will put more Hoosiers to work but also reduce our negative impact on the state’s environment.
The potential is considerable. Today, 66 percent of what gets thrown away by Hoosiers could be recovered and used as raw material by Indiana manufacturers. Another 17 percent could be turned into valuable compost.
We know the jobs are out there because we already have recycling industry companies — those that prepare recycled materials for use by manufacturers — that tell us they would expand if more in-state recycled materials were available. Strategic Materials and Perpetual Recycling Solutions are two examples.
The largest glass recycler in North America, Strategic has a plant on Indy’s Southside, where it collects used glass bottles and crushes them to create “cullet,” which is sold to manufacturers to make such products as beer bottles, terrazzo floors, countertops and reflective material for roads. Perpetual Recycling Solutions built a $30 million PET — soda and water bottles — processing facility in Richmond in 2012. They are hungry for more PET bottles and could use every bottle Hoosiers consume today.
The study identified 77 manufacturers doing business in Indiana that rely on recycled feedstock to make new products. Examples include Pratt Industries’ corrugated packing plant in Valparaiso and Knauf Insulation in Shelbyville.
That means there’s real economic value in the materials we all throw away (paper, glass, plastics, metals and so on). So the demand from manufacturers is there, and we need to help the suppliers get the recycled materials they need to meet that demand.
For this to happen, they need people. In fact, the collection, sorting and processing of recyclable and compostable materials create, on average, 10 times the number of jobs required to collect, landfill and/or incinerate discarded waste.
In Indiana, we would translate that multiple into thousands of jobs. According to the Bowen Center study, if Indiana were to increase the amount it diverts from waste to recycling by just 25 percent, we could see the creation of 10,000 new jobs.
That’s a lot of jobs we’re just throwing away. Consider this: In 2012, according to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, all of the state’s industries combined to create fewer than 30,000 new jobs. By diverting just 25 percent more waste, the state could supply the raw materials for the creation of an impressive one-third of that total.
What’s stopping us? In large part, public policy. If our lawmakers create incentives and opportunities that encourage citizens and businesses to recycle more and throw away less, we could transform our waste management system into a resource recovery system and turn our trash into jobs.
The Indiana Recycling Coalition will work to encourage the legislature to reinstate the existing recycling grant fund, as well as to pursue policies that support recycling infrastructure and education.
What can you do about it? First, recycle. Think about what you throw into the trash can; if it’s recyclable, help turn it into jobs by putting it into a recycling bin. Contact your city, town or Solid Waste Management District to learn about recycling resources. Second, let your lawmakers know that you support policies that encourage recycling.
The potential is real: Indiana has a relatively low recycling rate and a strong in-state demand for recyclable materials. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity and stop burying jobs in landfills.
Hamilton is executive director of the Indiana Recycling Coalition.