A new study from the international environmental alliance GAIA finds that cities that invest in ‘zero waste’ programmes and policies create ‘numerous good, green, jobs’ in addition to the known benefits of reducing pollution and improving community health.
The report comes as municipal governments across the world are making critical investment decisions to increase climate resilience and rebuild local economies damaged by the Covid-19 crisis. The study projects that if London were to recycle or compost 80% of the recyclable and organic material in its waste stream, the city could create around 5,000 new jobs.
The new paper is a meta-analysis of 36 studies spanning 16 countries that examined the job creation potential of various waste management strategies such as repair/reuse, recycling, composting, incineration and landfill. The research makes clear that what’s good for the environment is also good for the economy.
The report claims ‘zero waste’ strategies score highest on environmental benefits and create the most jobs of any waste management approach:
- Reuse creates over 200 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.
- Recycling creates around 70 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.
- Remanufacturing creates almost 30 times as many jobs as landfills and incinerators.
The study defines ‘zero waste’ as a comprehensive waste management approach that prioritises waste reduction and material recovery, with the ultimate aim of creating a circular economy, shrinking waste disposal to zero.
It defines a ‘disposal-based system’ as one that relies on incineration and landfills to handle the majority of the waste stream, resulting in what it calls ‘higher economic costs and more adverse environmental consequences’.
Because the majority of London’s non-recycled waste is incinerated, it will be necessary for the city to incinerate less if it wants to recycle more. Such a move towards a more sustainable London would create much needed employment
The study states that zero waste systems not only create more jobs, they create ‘better’ jobs. It cites studies that point to jobs in zero waste which beyond basic manual labour, provide higher wages, offer more permanent positions and ‘improve quality of life’.
Speaking about the report, UKWIN National Coordinator Shlomo Dowen commented: “Because the majority of London’s non-recycled waste is incinerated, it will be necessary for the city to incinerate less if it wants to recycle more. Such a move towards a more sustainable London would create much needed employment, whilst improving air quality and the quality of life for the residents of our capital city.”
Report co-author Dr. Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director at GAIA, states, “With the world still reeling from the pandemic, job creation is a top priority. Zero waste offers a strategy to create good jobs and reduce pollution, without breaking the bank. It’s a triple win for the economy, the environment, and the city.”