Study says only three cities achieve "sustainable recycling"

Study says only three cities achieve "sustainable recycling"

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

A report from a national social-justice group is challenging America's largest cities to boost the effectiveness of their recycling programs and create more living-wage jobs in the process.

"Transforming Trash in Urban America," from the nonprofit group Partnership for Working Families (PWF), takes a look at recycling initiatives in the 37 most populous American cities and determines that only three communities — Seattle, San Francisco and San Jose — have achieved what the group calls "sustainable recycling." According to PWF, those municipalities have approaches that combine robust recycling programs with policies that lead to family-sustainable wages, healthcare and career opportunities for workers in the industry. The programs in those cities, PWF adds, also minimize pollution and disruption to low-income communities and help push forward overall economic development.

The report states that such positive conditions have arisen thanks to contracts that allow the municipalities to set high standards in terms of recycling rates and employee compensation. "Cities often use open-market systems to manage relationships with private companies, leaving them without the regulatory tools needed to set standards," the report reads. "This hands-off approach limits cities’ ability to ... hold private companies accountable for the impacts they have on workers, communities and local economies."

The group found that Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and Oakland, California were all close to the sustainable recycling level. Eleven cities (among them, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) were classified in an intermediate level, meaning they have recycling programs in place and have made some progress toward better job development and economic possibilities.

Twenty of the cities surveyed, however, fall into the report's lowest category, dubbed "early stage," meaning they have some level of recycling but weak or limited management and are making limited efforts to increase job quality. Atlanta, Washington D.C., Houston and Miami are among the urban centers falling into this section.

The bright note of the research is the repeated claim by PWF that all 37 cities have the potential to reach the sustainable recycling level: "Local leaders have to push local governments to utilize policy and regulatory tools that will enable them to take a more proactive approach toward managing trash, delivering more recycling, good jobs, less pollution and more accountability from the waste industry."

The report notes that increasing recycling by 40 percent in the U.S. would create 1.5 million jobs and would double the nation's reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

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