States and municipalities across the U.S. are increasingly recognizing the importance of recycling, not only for its environmental and social benefits, but also for its potential to drive economic growth. This win-win mentality is even present at the federal level, with the EPA’s 2019 National Framework for Advancing the U.S Recycling System calling for increased engagement with state recycling market initiatives.

To understand the overall economic impact of current programs and to support future development, AMERIPEN, the American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, has released a new study, Economic Impact of State Recycling Market Development: 1990-2023, researched and analyzed by John Dunham & Associates (JDA).

What is State Recycling Market Development?

AMERIPEN’s new study represents the first deep-dive into the overall impact of state recycling marketing development, or the initiatives that states have taken over the past 30 years to create or expand markets for recycled materials. These initiatives may identify new uses and applications for materials or focus on developing new technologies and processes to make recycling more efficient and cost-effective. Ultimately, recycling market development aims to reduce waste, conserve natural resources, and support sustainable economic growth.

“While there have been various development efforts since the 1990s, the most lasting iteration comes in the form of recycling market development centers,” said Kyla Fisher, Program Director for AMERIPEN. “These programs connect and match state resources, usually environmental and commerce departments, with private sector parties to advance recycling success.” Such centers may support businesses that use recycled materials, identify and overcome barriers to the growth of recycling markets and much more. Fisher noted, “As of 2023, there are seven state-specific programs and two regional collaboratives operating in the United States. That translates into a total of 19 states that engage in some type of development program.”

About the Study

While economic development centers are budding throughout the country and generating their own data, there has yet to be an assessment of the cumulative economic impact of all state recycling market development programs. AMERIPEN’s study aimed to close that gap by evaluating 24 recycling-dependent industries over the past three decades, predominately emphasizing packaging and related materials. After establishing the breakdown of recyclable materials to review, the study then dug into the patterns across these materials within the 19 different states that either have their own development program or are part of a regional effort—versus states that did not have any documented recycling market development programs.

Key Findings

Analysis from JDA shows that recycling market centers have been associated with the generation of nearly 260,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs over the past 33 years. With state supplier data and other impacts included, that number balloons to 990,000 FTE jobs during the same period. Businesses have paid their employees’ wages and benefits totaling nearly $22.2 billion and have generated economic activity of over $89.5 billion.

Ultimately, the study concludes that recycling market centers have a beneficial effect on recycling-related industries in a state’s economy, and much like other economic development programs at the state level, assistance such as grants, tax forgiveness, technical services and research and development can help encourage recycling-dependent businesses to locate in specific areas.

“AMERIPEN’s study sheds light on the valuable work that has been done to grow markets for recycled materials,” said Dan Felton, AMERIPEN Executive Director. “We’re clearly seeing that when state centers collaborate with industry to drive resources to areas of need, everyone can collectively benefit. We hope that 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, also referred to as EPR for packaging.

John Dunham, Managing Partner of JDA, noted that readers and state agencies should see the report as a steppingstone toward further assessment. “Additional studies could drill down even further,” said Dunham, “and it is an ideal time to encourage engagement by state and federal agencies to explore how we can better assess these programs to evaluate best practices as well as demonstrate their value.”

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