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How scrap metal recycling is shaping the US economy

Paul Morris 224493
Image: Paul Morris / Unsplash


According to an infographic released recently by global electronics and scrap metal recycling giant Sims Metal Management, Americans waste recyclable material worth $7 billion. In 2010 alone, the value of aluminum cans wasted stood at a whopping $1.1 billion, while that of steel materials was around $3 billion.

The infographic goes a little further to claim that the $3 billion that were lost because Americans chose to waste steel could have provided lunch for everyone in the US! 

Now, you’d have to agree that the US isn’t exactly a poor country that needs lunch money from generous donors, but can we really afford to lose these resources because we’re just too lazy, and couldn’t care less about recycling scrap metal? I guess the point I’m trying to make is that recycling scrap metal has a bigger economic impact than we realize. And this isn’t just the case with the US – the large scale ignorance towards this subject is having a disturbing effect on the world economy, too.

In fact, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI), commissioned a study specifically to look at how the scrap metal recycling industry impacts the economy at the national, state, and Congressional district levels.

According to the President of ISRI, the study found that the US scrap recycling industry is playing an important role in the country’s economic recovery. How exactly is it doing so? By adding jobs, contributing to the tax revenue, conserving resources, and in many more direct and indirect ways than one can imagine.

According to the study, the US scrap recycling industry is a powerful engine of economic growth, which has helped create more than 460,000 jobs and generate more than $10.3 billion in tax revenues for the federal, state, and local governments.

Let’s take a deeper look at these economic impacts:

  • Supporting employment: The scrap recycling industry provides ‘green jobs’ to millions of people. These include people not just directly employed by scrap metal recycling centers and firms that supply the industry with recycled material, but also those who work in a range of complementary businesses such as companies that provide machinery, trucks, and services to processors. Since recycling centers are located throughout the United States, the scrap recycling industry actually provides well-paying jobs to people in every state. In 2013, 137,970 jobs, paying an average of $69,480, were being supported by the manufacturing and brokerage operations of the scrap recycling industry in the US. In addition to this, the industry was indirectly supporting 324,970 jobs throughout the country.
  • Generating tax revenues: The scrap recycling industry is responsible for generating a significant amount of tax revenue for federal, state, and local governments. According to the ISRI study, the industry and its employees pay $6.3 billion in federal taxes annually. Additionally, the industry generates $4 billion in state and local revenues annually – money that is pumped back into the economy and probably goes into paying state employees or developing new sources of economic activity and employment generation.
  • Inducing export activities: The scrap commodities manufactured by the scrap recycling industry have a huge demand not just within the US, but even outside. According to ISRI, these commodities were sold to more than 160 countries and contributed nearly $24 billion in export sales in 2013. Scrap commodities are among the nation’s largest exports in terms of value, and account for 39 percent of the industry’s economic activity. The export activity creates thousands of green jobs and millions of dollars in wages resulting in $33.9 billion in economic benefits for the United States.

The total economic activity generated by the US scrap recycling industry is $87.4 billion, thereby putting it at par with some of the country’s biggest industries like cosmetics, milk, and aircraft engines. To borrow the ISRI president’s quote, “When people think of recycling, they think of the bin at the curb; when, in fact, our industry is a multi-billion-dollar ‘Made in America’ manufacturing success story.”

As true as that is, what’s also true is the fact that recycling does begin at the curb, or in this case, your nearest scrap metal recycling center. If the numbers for the United States alone run into the billions of dollars, think what is possible on a global scale. Given the potentially huge impact this would have on the global economy, I circle back to the same question – can we really afford to ignore scrap metal recycling?


Anna Staley


Image credit: Photo by paul morris on Unsplash

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