Green Jobs are Already Here

There’s a lot of talk about the green collar jobs of the future, and the U.S.’s current economic state has a lot to do with it. Investors, entrepreneurs, and governments are hopeful that the maladies of unemployment will be cured by the creation of a momentous number of green jobs in wind, solar thermal, and photovoltaic power, or in creating the smart grid, and energy efficiency retrofits. The irony is that these green jobs are already here, and have been for at least twenty years.

Curbside recycling programs have been established in about half of all U.S. cities and towns. The programs are an easy way to go green. Most curbside recycling includes the collection of aluminum, glass, plastic, paper, and steel*. More importantly, each one of those programs requires people to pick up our empty milk jugs, juice bottles, pickle jars and tinfoil.

The programs are also driving community education and awareness. Each generation is more thoroughly educated than the one before on how to identify and separate materials that were previously thought of as trash. As landfills fill up more quickly with the rising rate of consumerism and single-use products, curbside recycling provides a convenient alternative destiny for materials that are easy to reuse.

But most importantly, curbside recycling programs are also a quiet source of jobs. They employ the collectors and drivers that wake up earlier than most to make it possible for households to participate in environmental conservation. They employ the mechanics who keep those trucks running, and the people who organize that material and pass it on to industry. Curbside recycling programs keep your neighbors employed.

Drawings by Susannah Webster, Resident Artist at Recology’s Artist in Residence Program, 2008

At a time when everyone is budgeting and counting pennies, and the U.S. unemployment rate is 10%, 1,075 recycling jobs are currently being advertised on just one website. Curbside recycling doesn’t require a lot of trial and error with new technology. It works, it’s available, it doesn’t tax us irrationally for the bottles and cans we buy at the supermarket. For about twenty years, curbside recycling programs have been quietly making a real, tangible, and impactful difference.

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