Post and Courier
September 18, 2014

Officials: Recycling a booming industry in South Carolina

Posted: 06/24/2014 12:22 p.m.
Updated: 06/24/2014 06:19 p.m.


By Cynthia Roldan

IRMO - It turns out someone's trash can really be someone else's treasure, and in South Carolina it amounts to a $13 billion industry.

State officials announced Tuesday that the state recycling industry's annual economic impact in South Carolina has doubled from $6.5 billion in 2006 to $13 billion 2013. The findings were part of a study conducted by College of Charleston Professor Frank Hefner, who documented how the industry has grown from 340 firms in 2006 to 524 in 2014.

Hefner said the study looked at businesses that make a profit from recycling their own materials or those of other businesses; it does not include residential recycling or municipal solid waste. As part of the study, he had to identify the companies, which are spread out throughout the state, that do as much as 100 percent recycling to as little 4 percent.

"What we teased out was that in 2005 about 15,000 jobs were directly related to the industry, and here in 2013, 22,000 jobs were directly related to the industry," Hefner said. "What this means is a lot of income to the state of South Carolina."

The study also found that South Carolina has four times more jobs in recycling per capita than California and Massachusetts. Annually, recycling in South Carolina has grown 4.7 percent. Of the companies involved in the study, 64 percent said they were planning to expand by at least three employees in 2014.

Most recycling businesses in South Carolina are like that of Nancy Ogburn, owner of Tomato Palms, which recycles materials for other businesses. The company hand sorts materials and finds the proper recycling facility for them.

Ogburn started recycling with the purpose of donating the profits to help the homeless. She quickly spotted the need businesses had for someone to help them recycle, and turned it into a business. She still donates some of her profits to assist the homeless and even shelter pets.

"It's a feel-good business," said Ogburn, adding that the environmental benefits are a major plus. "It's a win-win-win."

South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt said the state is working with businesses to help them realize they could profit from their trash, to further expand the recycling efforts. The state is also aiming to reach a 40 percent recycling rate with municipal solid waste.

"There's value in their trash," said Hitt of businesses. "But most people don't really think about it."

The Department of Commerce and RecyclonomicsSC, a nonprofit, work with businesses to connect them with those that conduct recycling. Hitt added it's amazing how far the industry has come, especially when considering that recycling is voluntary.

"Basically, we've been able to help people realize that recycling makes them money," Hitt said. "What might be a waste to them or a by-product of their process can be an essential element to somebody else's process."