Could recycling create more jobs?
In this era of austerity, it’s good news that the recycled materials industry could generate thousands of jobs across the UK within the next decade.
According to the recently published Going for Growth report from the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and the government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme, a more bullish recycling industry could create 10,000 new jobs by 2020 and drive exports of more than £20bn.
For this to happen, we need to create a more circular economy. So instead of throwing products away when we’ve finished with them, we keep the resources in use for as long as possible through regenerating or recycling them. This will reduce raw material and energy costs, saving industries up to £50b a year and therefore making them more profitable.
Can a circular economy create more jobs?
There are several reports out at the moment in addition to the ESA findings that support the theory that a circular economy would create more jobs.
For instance, Defra has calculated that UK businesses could benefit by up to £23bn a year through minimal investment in the efficient use of resources. This is backed up by the Towards a Circular Economy reports from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which claim a circular economy could save the EU between £220bn and £250bn a year.
It’s easy to accept the argument that linear economies lead to increased consumption and more waste. A circular economy is more environmentally kind, can reduce production costs by making resources more affordable and ease economic problems caused by the increasing scarcity of raw materials. In the UK this will help companies to grow sustainably, make the economy more resilient and therefore competitive – and presumably ease employment.
Outside the waste management industry, the backlash against waste could potentially boost research and development jobs. The ESA report claims that increased demand for products that require less recycling or can be easily regenerated, could create an opportunity for 50,000 new jobs.
Fortune Favours the Brave, a recent report by Accenture and Business in the Community and Marks & Spencer, supports the findings of the other reports. It claims that UK businesses could increase productivity by around £100bn a year “from new innovation opportunities that address social and environmental challenges” such as greater recycling, anaerobic digestion schemes and other environmentally sustainable measures.
It points to “significant opportunities” to expand the “waste management powerhouses” in the east of England, Midlands, North West and Yorkshire to other parts of the country. And adds that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had estimated employment in the waste management, recovery and recycling sectors is growing 3% a year and is expected to create at least 3,500 jobs annually in the next few years.
The recession effect
But the waste industry isn’t recession-proof. Last year Shanks closed its site in Blochairn, Glasgow, with pre-tax losses of £35.3m. Recession triggered low prices for recycled waste, due to increased competition and the struggling construction market.
In May this year, another Scottish materials recycling plant collapsed. Avondale Environmental in Polmont closed after just a year with the loss of 70 jobs, although there are moves to get funding from Zero Waste Scotland or Scottish Enterprise in order to reopen the site.
Even so, the concept of a circular economy seems to make sense and there have been calls for Government support. Resources are harder to come by and – with the global population estimated to hit nine billion people by 2050 – demand is increasing. So it seems clear that businesses that use recyclable resources will be more profitable and stable in the long-term.
If the recycling waste industry is encouraged to grow in the UK, the evidence indicates that the knock-on effect will boost the jobs market across all industries.