At the 2018 Association of Indiana Solid Waste Management Districts Retreat, Bob Gedert of Resource Recycling Systems shared a plan for how local economic development can create recycling demand. His presentation, Rebuilding America’s Recycling Infrastructure: Economic Development Strategies for Local Communities, gave suggestions for how local communities can help address the need for recycling industries in response to China’s National Sword program.
To illustrate the impact China has on recycling in America, Gedert shared these striking facts. In 2017, approximately 33% percent of U.S. recycling commodity exports – worth $5.6 billion – were sent to China. In 2018, less than 5% of US recyclables are shipped and accepted in China.
Collections in our communities didn’t stop, so where will all this material go now? Gedert suggests that after steps are taken to increase the quality of our collected material, communities can increase local demand via economic development tactics like these:
• Utilize local traditional business attraction tools for “diversion” support businesses
• Hire a Recycling Economic Development Officer
• Provide one-on-one business assistance using dedicated staff to assist zero waste businesses with economic development resources
• Offer zero waste pitch sessions; host an annual event for zero waste entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas to potential investors
He also says it is crucial to support these local initiatives:
• Reuse businesses
• Materials marketplace
• Research and development
• Eco-development park
• Recycling end markets
Gedert ended his presentation with a call to action for local recycling leadership to build relationships with local and state economic development staff. Together, recycling and economic development stakeholders can create new economic development tools that will support businesses which can utilize recycled materials as their feedstock. He pointed to Austin, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and Edmonton, Canada as having model programs.
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