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A $17B Investment in Recycling Will Leverage a System That Delivers Tons

By Keefe Harrison
CEO, The Recycling Partnership

It’s no secret that we at The Recycling Partnership like data. Our commitment to building and sharing robust analyses with the public and private sectors to drive recycling improvements is core to our mission. The release of our newest report is part of that push to help the world envision a successful U.S. recycling system more clearly. “Paying it Forward – How Investments in Recycling Will Pay Dividends” outlines what it will take to create the healthy system we need, and what that commitment will provide us in return.

With demand for sustainable packaging and corporate ESG pledges on the rise, “Paying It Forward” offers new insight into investments needed for recycling to reach every American while also delivering critical economic and environmental impacts.  In short, a 5 year, $17B investment in the system would reap rewards including:

  •  Creating nearly 200,000 new jobs and $30B in economic benefits.
  •  Saving a total of 710 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, equal to taking 129,000,000 cars off the road.
  • Avoiding an estimated $9.4 billion in landfill costs; and
  • Launching an estimated $8.8 billion in new, high-quality recyclable commodities into the marketplace.

Recycling in the U.S. is not broken, it’s just not at the magnitude we need. Recycling provides jobs and a greener supply chain for manufacturing, but because there have never been systematic or large-scale investments, it is fragmented by geographic location and material type.

Let’s be clear – progress wouldn’t exist if every great invention or movement required success on the first try. We believe it’s time to go at this again with a clear roadmap and resources. We’re so proud of the programs we’ve transformed and the gaps we’ve filled since 2014; our metrics show that through hard work, the right tools, and the appropriate investment, together we can make meaningful change.

So how do we level up recycling?  By providing equitable access, meaning everyone can recycle at home, and offering high-quality, targeted education through a fully funded approach, we can overcome recycling’s longstanding challenge of truly serving all people. Build on that with upgraded infrastructure to sort and process more types of packaging, and we will see accelerated progress like never before for every material type – more than doubling the recycling rate overall. Paper, cartons and boxes, metals and cans, glass and plastic. A better recycling system helps all materials have a more circular solution.

We know that the changes outlined in “Paying it Forward‘ are within our reach; they’re demonstrated in communities where we have made our own investments. We’re in a unique moment where the public, policy makers, and corporate leaders are all aligned on the need for a stronger, better system. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make huge strides in recycling – let’s act now.