Try Recycling Jobs Instead of Trading Them Away

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - President Obama would like to create more jobs for American workers. One way he is attempting to do that is by negotiating more free trade agreements. Apparently he didn’t learn anything from Bill Clinton, who pushed through the disastrous NAFTA trade bill and several others like it. Twenty years later, the consensus seems to be that NAFTA was good for corporations, but bad for jobs.

Now Obama is negotiating a new trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  The TPP would create the largest free trade area in the world.  Like NAFTA it is supposed to create jobs. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz  doesn't think so. “There is a real risk that it will benefit the wealthiest sliver of the American and global elite at the expense of everyone else. The fact that such a plan is under consideration at all,” Stiglitz said, “is testament to how deeply inequality reverberates through our economic policies.”

Of course, the only reason Stiglitz is able to comment at all on the content of the agreement is because bits of it have been leaked out. All negotiations have taken place under top-secret conditions, which, in my mind, is a pretty good hint that most of us are not going to like it. Stiglitz, calls agreements like this one a “race to the bottom,” a race that 'he with the fewest regulations, wins.' What this agreement threatens to do is elevate the power of corporations above that of sovereign governments, so that a company like Phillip Morris, could challenge a government’s decision to ban smoking, as being something that would “unfairly hurt profits,” which they did against Uruguay.

Perhaps the President would do better to take as his inspiration, a program instituted in California aimed at increasing its recycling rate. The new goal, established by the state legislature along with Governor Jerry Brown, is to achieve a statewide recycling rate of 75%, by means of the following strategy:

  • Take action to keep Organics Out of the Landfill
  • Continue to Reform the Beverage Container Recycling Program
  • Expand the Recycling/Manufacturing Infrastructure
  • Explore new State & Local Funding Models for Materials Management Programs
  • Promote State Procurement of Postconsumer Recycled Content Products
  • Promote Extended Producer Responsibility

NRDC commissioned the Tellus Institute to assess the job creation potential of these actions. The result was a report entitled, From Waste to Jobs: What Achieving 75 Percent Recycling Means for California. What the study found was that this effort would create a minimum of 110,000 new direct jobs, as well as 38,600 indirect jobs in supporting businesses. Just bringing plastics recycling up to the 75% level would create 29,000 jobs, not to mention the other positive benefits to human health and to the environment.

In 2012, some 20 million tons of waste were shipped to Asia from ports in California, for processing, taking the opportunity for thousands of jobs with it.

This is exactly the kind of outcome that would be encouraged by an agreement like the TPP, which would direct services to the lowest bidder, rather than the one that would provide the greatest overall benefit to all stakeholders. How much better off would we be if we focused on greening on our infrastructure, which would give us the dual benefit of keeping the jobs here, while at the same time, improving our quality of life? Our ability to transition to a more sustainable society will depend on our leaders’ willingness to look at the big picture rather than following the demands of special interests.

[Image courtesy of NRDC]