A study from packaging research group AMERIPEN found that recycling market centers generated nearly 260,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the past 33 years. | Virrage Images/Shutterstock

Recently published research from AMERIPEN dug into the past three decades of state recycling marketing development, finding that creating recycling market centers can boost jobs, economic growth and the industry. 

Kyla Fisher, program director for AMERIPEN, said in a statement that the most lasting kind of market development efforts since the 1990s are recycling market development centers, which are programs that connect and match state resources with private sector parties. 

Those centers typically support a range of businesses connected to recycling, including those that use recycled materials and that work on new technologies and innovations, as well as help remove barriers to the growth of recycling markets.

Fisher noted that as of 2023, there are seven state-specific programs and two regional collaboratives in the United States, for a total of 19 states that engage in some variation of a development program. 

The study’s goal was to assess the cumulative economic impact of all state recycling market development programs. AMERIPEN noted that to the best of its knowledge, this is the first study of its kind.

“As interest in investing in our domestic recycling system grows, AMERIPEN and our partners in the recycling market development centers felt it would be worthwhile to evaluate the economic impact of these centers,” the study stated. “While each program tends to evaluate their unique program for economic and environmental impact, there has been no national study undertaken to evaluate how effective these programs are and how we could better leverage them to meet our emerging goals for increased domestic recovery of packaging.”

Study findings

The study evaluated 24 recycling-dependent industries over the past three decades, with an emphasis on packaging and related materials. Researchers compared market patterns between the 19 states with development programs against the states that lacked these programs. 

The data suggested that recycling market centers generated nearly 260,000 full-time equivalent jobs over the past 33 years, paying out collective wages and benefits totaling $22.2 billion, and also generated economic activity of over $89.5 billion. 

Municipal recycling facilitation or sortation centers seem to benefit the most from recycling market centers, the study also found, and the centers tend to attract paper and paperboard manufacturing and metals smelting and production businesses best. However, the greatest area of job growth is in plastics. 

More data on the budget of each recycling market center would be helpful for a future analysis, the study noted. 

“If more information on the characteristics and underlying data of these operations were made available, it might be possible to determine best practices and how other industries might benefit from state recycling market development centers,” the study stated. 

Dan Felton, AMERIPEN executive director, said in a statement that he hopes the study “will encourage the development of even more recycling market centers across the country, as well as lead to more dialogue on recycling market development and the role of these centers within the current discussions on packaging producer responsibility.”

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