Most people understand that recycling is good for our environment, but what many people don't realize is that it's also good for our economy.
By some estimates, recycling can result in 10 times more jobs than simply sending material to the landfill. Whether or not this factor of 10 is precise, it is clear that recycling is a significant economic driver across the country -- and right here in central Ohio.
Last year, SWACO engaged DSM Environmental Services to calculate the size of central Ohio's recycling, reuse and remanufacturing industry and to determine its current and potential economic impact on the region.
And it's massive.
Central Ohio's recycling industry comprises 372 businesses that employ some 5,000 workers and generate $1.3 billion in annual revenue.
Incredibly, those numbers only represent the direct impact of recycling.
It's likely that the indirect impact of recycling is double that at nearly $2.6 billion. That's all good news, but the even better news is that there's plenty of room for growth.
In 2016, the latest year statistics were available, central Ohio generated an estimated 2.1 million tons of residential and business waste, of which 46.5 percent was diverted from the landfill. While that's almost 12 percent higher than the national average, nearly 70 percent of the material that ended up in the landfill here in central Ohio could have been recycled.
If we could divert just half of that remaining material, the economic impact alone would be 400 new jobs, $1.9 million in new payroll and $115 million in new gross revenue.
When you think about it, the idea that recycling creates more jobs than landfills makes sense. In order to get an aluminum can or cardboard box from your house to a business that can use it to create a new product takes some effort. That material goes through a pretty elaborate process of collection, sorting and processing before it is ready to be sold as a commodity on the open market. That process creates jobs.
Clearly, there are both environmental and economic benefits to diverting waste from the landfill through recycling, reusing and remanufacturing.
Environmentally, the more material we can keep out of the landfill, the longer the landfill will be available to serve the waste-management needs of central Ohio.
Economically, converting waste material into valuable raw material spurs innovation and attracts capital investment, which in turn brings desirable jobs that attract talented workers.
It also generates tax revenue for our communities and reduces energy consumption because the goods made from recycled materials require much less energy to produce.
That's why SWACO supports what we refer to as a "circular economy."
We start with natural resources like trees, water, oil and natural gas. We make things using those resources -- everything from toys and tools to cars and computers. Then we use or consume the things we make. When we're done using and consuming, we recycle as much as possible so the material can be made into new items that we once again use and consume.
A circular economy keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracting maximum value and keeping them out of the landfill as they are recovered and made into new products.
Recycling is equally as vital to our economic future as it is to our environmental future.
SWACO has set an ambitious goal of increasing central Ohio's waste-diversion rate from the current 49 percent to 75 percent by 2032. Achieving this goal will not just ease the burden on the landfill -- it will strengthen central Ohio's economy.
Ty Marsh is executive director of SWACO. Questions about SWACO's operations can be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His office provides this column to ThisWeek Community News.