Growth trend

Features - Workplace Management Series

Recycling-related businesses in North Carolina continue to add jobs in the state.

April 3, 2014

Editor’s note: The following text is a summary of “Employment Trends in North Carolina’s Recycling Industry 2013,” a recent study released by the North Carolina Recycling Business Assistance Center. The full study is available at

The North Carolina Recycling Business Assistance Center (RBAC) is a partnership of the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service and the North Carolina Department of Commerce. To aid in its mission to support and grow North Carolina recycling businesses, RBAC periodically conducts studies to assess the economic impact of the recycling industry. A recent study of more than 700 private sector recycling businesses is the latest in a series of studies spanning nearly two decades demonstrating the ongoing contribution of recycling to the state’s economic growth.

The study’s major findings include:

  • Currently North Carolina has more than 17,000 direct private sector recycling-related jobs.
  • Private sector recycling jobs have increased 11.95 percent since 2010.
  • Total estimated annual payroll for North Carolina recycling businesses is $442 million.
  • Forty-five percent of recycling businesses surveyed anticipate creating more jobs during the next two years.
  • Eighty-one recycling businesses reported spending $79.6 million in equipment, facilities and land investments from 2011-13.
  • Fifty-one percent of recycling businesses surveyed plan to invest $47.3 million in equipment, facilities or land in the next two years.
  • Twenty-eight percent of businesses surveyed report manufacturing a product using a combined 2.3 million tons of recycled materials.
  • Recycling businesses target a wide variety of recyclables for collection, processing or use in manufacturing; no single commodity dominates the state’s recycling economy.

Background & methodology

In 2013, RBAC staff conducted an update of the current estimate of private sector recycling-related employment in North Carolina. As with previous studies performed in 1994, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2010, a recycling business was defined as a company involved in the recovery, reuse or remanufacture of materials within the state’s borders. This includes activities such as collection, processing, manufacturing, reuse or composting of postconsumer or postindustrial materials. The study defined a recycling-related employee as a full-time equivalent employee dedicating any time to recycling-related activities or whose position would not exist without the recycling component of the business.

Data collection and results

RBAC maintains a free, continuously updated online Recycling Markets Directory, or RMD, of recycling companies that collect, transport, broker, process or remanufacture recovered materials in North Carolina. This directory provides essential links between businesses, industries and local governments searching for markets for recyclables and the companies that accept the materials for recovery. The North Carolina RMD can be accessed at

The 720 North Carolina recycling businesses that were listed in the RMD at the time of this study were the focus of the report. Every recycling business or organization in North Carolina listed in the RMD with an email address received the online Survey Monkey recycling business survey questionnaire. RMD businesses without email addresses were placed on a list to obtain employment data by direct contact to the business or through a secondary data set acquired by the North Carolina Employment Security Commission (ESC). The ESC database contained North American Industry Classification System, or NAICS, code classifications, employment data and addresses for North Carolina businesses as reported in the fourth quarter of 2012.

While the RMD is a great resource for identifying many recycling-related businesses, it does not include all recycling companies in the state. Not every recycling business or manufacturer in the state has chosen to be listed in the directory. Some businesses may not be aware that the RMD exists, and RBAC staff may not be aware of every recycling business in the state. To be more comprehensive, the ESC database was queried to include additional recycling companies and manufacturers using recycled content material.

As there is no general classification number for the recycling industry, the ESC’s database was queried for a variety of classification codes used by numerous recycling-related sectors, including 423930 (recyclable material merchant wholesalers), 562920 (material recovery facilities), 321920 (container and pallet manufacturing), 562111 (waste haulers) and 562212 (solid waste landfill). A general query for “recycling” or “recycle” in the company name field also was performed. Based on industry input and staff experience with the two sectors, it was assumed that 10 percent of total employment for NAICS codes 562111 (waste haulers) and 562212 (solid waste landfill), and 66 percent employment of NAICS code 321920 (container and pallet manufacturing) was dedicated to recycling.

From staff contact and interaction, 45 additional recycled-content manufacturing companies and other recycling businesses not listed in the RMD were included in the study. Employment data for these companies was obtained through phone calls and emails to the businesses or the ESC database. To avoid overestimating recycling employment data, industry experts in RBAC estimated the percentage of recycling-related employees.

Based on data collected from the RMD business survey and combining data from additional sources, North Carolina is home to more than 17,000 recycling-related jobs. (See Table 1 below for the breakdown of total recycling employment data.)

Employment data comparison to prior studies

As indicated previously, the 2013 study continues a positive upward trend compared with previous studies conducted in 1994, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2010. From 2010 to 2013, private sector recycling employment increased 11.95 percent. The 1994 and 2003 analyses included public sector recycling employment, while the 2000, 2008, 2010 and 2013 studies did not to make the studies more focused on private sector activity.

Additional recycling business survey data

In addition to employment data, RMD recycling businesses responding to the survey provided information on hourly wages, recyclable materials targeted, tonnages, recycled material products manufactured, investment and anticipated job creation. Survey respondents reported an average hourly wage of $12.50 for a total North Carolina recycling business payroll of $442 million—an increase of $47.2 million from the 2010 study.

Unlike previous studies, the 2013 survey included an additional question to gauge investment projections in equipment, facilities and land in the next two years. Fifty-one percent of businesses responded that they anticipated making additional capital investments and estimated spending $43.3 million in the next two years.

As a supplement to the investment projection survey question, RBAC staff performed a retroactive analysis of private recycling business capital investment over the 2011-13 study time frame. Investment data were aggregated through actual data reported to staff through direct contact or from RBAC’s Recycling Business Development Grant program final reports. During the three years analyzed, 81 recycling businesses reported spending $79.6 million in capital investment.

In the 2010 study, 48 percent of survey respondents estimated that 400 new recycling-related jobs would be created during the next two years. Survey respondents in 2013 stated that 829 new recycling jobs had been created since 2010 and 156 recycling-related jobs had been terminated during the same time frame for a net total of 673 jobs created, or a 68 percent increase from the 2010 projection.

Recycling businesses surveyed anticipated increased employment growth. When asked if the business planned to create new jobs, 91 businesses, or 45 percent, estimated that 421 new jobs would be created during the next two years.

Recycling businesses surveyed also were asked to quantify the tonnage of recyclables collected, processed, brokered and used in manufacturing. Of those businesses surveyed, 67 percent reported collecting 1.5 million tons of recyclables; 66 percent reported processing 2.3 million tons of recyclables; 25 percent brokered 235,537 tons of recyclables; and 28 percent used 2.3 million tons of recycled material in the manufacture of products. (See Table 2 above, for a summary of recycling tonnages.)

Recycling businesses target a wide variety of recyclables for collection, processing or use in manufacturing. No single commodity dominates the recycling sector in North Carolina. Surveyed businesses reported targeting the following common recyclable materials: aluminum cans, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), other plastics, glass, newspapers, corrugated cardboard, office paper, mixed paper, other paper, magazines, textiles, other metal scrap, electronics, construction and demolition materials and woody and organic materials. In addition, surveyed businesses were given the option to provide open-ended responses for other recyclables targeted.

The number of products using recycled material manufactured by North Carolina businesses is diverse and numerous. Twenty-eight percent of businesses responding to the survey reported manufacturing a product using recycled materials. (Table 3, on the right, includes a listing of recycled material products North Carolina businesses reported manufacturing.)

Upward growth

The North Carolina recycling economy continues an upward growth trend. In 2013, an estimated 17,002 private sector recycling-related jobs in the state were involved in the collection, processing, manufacturing, reuse or composting of postconsumer or postindustrial materials. North Carolina recycling businesses are strong, diverse and use a large variety of recyclable or discarded materials that become feedstock for a wide variety of products.


Sherry Yarkosky is the lead researcher and author of the “Employment Trends in North Carolina’s Recycling Industry–2013.” She is a recycling business development specialist with the North Carolina Recycling Business Assistance Center and can be reached at