Sep 28, 2015
We have a mission, something to do, that’s why we’re here, talking with you. Ya see, there’s a story and it has to be told about our dumps and the garbage they hold. Just look in your trash, and what do you see?

Everyday things from you and me; newspapers, bottles and cans, made from trees, metal ore and sand.

Natural resources and energy, to throw it all away seems crazy to me. So goes the song Re-Re-Cycle by Bill Brennan (Billy B) who since 1977 has performed for children, parents, and teachers combining environmental education and entertainment.

If Billy B. is going to be successful and encourage more people to recycle it is important that a dynamic industry of scrap recyclers be ready to meet the demand for processing waste and scrap into new products and feed stocks. The U.S. scrap recycling industry processed more than 130 million metric tons of scrap in 2013, transforming it into useful raw materials needed to produce a range of new products. 

An analysis conducted by my firm, John Dunham and Associates, has found that by performing this important service for consumers, governments and businesses throughout the country, the scrap recycling industry is currently providing 471,587 good jobs for working Americans and generating over $105.8 billion in economic activity. In 2015, as many as 149,010 jobs are being supported by the direct manufacturing and brokerage operations of the scrap recycling industry in the United States. These are good jobs paying an average of $77,153 in wages and benefits to American workers. In addition to this, 322,577 jobs throughout the U.S. economy are indirectly supported by the scrap recycling industry through suppliers and the indirect impact of the industry’s expenditures.

The economic benefits generated by the scrap recycling industry are widespread. Scrap facilities are located in every state throughout the country in both urban and rural communities. This means that the U.S. scrap recycling industry provides real jobs, to real people, in every state in the union. And these jobs are not only in firms that process scrap materials into new, usable commodity inputs, but in firms that supply the industry with recycled materials, like steel mills and independent peddlers, as well as firms that supply machinery, trucks and services to processors. In addition, thousands of people in industries seemingly unrelated to scrap materials recycling, from servers in restaurants, to construction workers, to teachers in local schools, depend on the re-spending of the wages and taxes paid by scrap recycling industry to their workers and suppliers. 

In addition to providing jobs and opportunities at home, the scrap recycling industry is an important part of the growing American export economy. Scrap commodities are among the nation’s largest exports by value, and overall, exports account for about 27 percent of the industry’s economic activity. This means that over 39,000 jobs are directly supported by the export activities associated with the processing and brokerage operations of scrap recyclers operating in the United States. An additional 86,254 jobs are supported by supplier operations and through the indirect effects of scrap recycling exports. This is because scrap materials that are intended for export must be collected, separated and prepared for transport out of the United States. The steps in this process provide well-paying American jobs. In fact, were it not for these export markets, many materials, including post-consumer paper and electronics would probably not be recycled at all, simply because there is no demand for them in the United States. By opening up new markets, the nation’s recycled materials producers create demand for materials that might otherwise end up in landfills.

The scrap industry is the first link in the global supply chain for the growing demand of all manner of commodities ranging from iron and steel to paper; nonferrous metals such as aluminum, copper, and zinc; plastics; electronics; and rubber. As Billy B. would tell the kids, Everyday things from you and me; newspapers, bottles and cans, made from trees, metal ore and sand. Because of the hard work of the American scrap recycling industry, these scrap and waste materials find their way to new uses throughout the world. 

John R. Dunham is managing partner for John Dunham and Associates. Watch, “Green Effect: The Recycling Industry’s Economic Impact,” a short video based on the analysis to learn more.

Have Questions?