Recycling: Good for the Environment, Dangerous for Workers

Thursday, June 25, 2015
Recycling plant in New Jersey (photo: Mike Derer, AP)

Recycling operations in cities across America take care of vast quantities of papers, metals, plastics and other unwanted materials, keeping them from being dumped into the environment or adding to landfills. But in the process of this work, employees at recycling centers have been exposed to dangerous conditions, resulting in injuries and fatalities.


A report (pdf) from the University of Illinois School of Public Health says 17 recycling workers died on the job from 2011 to 2013.


Just last week, David P. Rossman was crushed to death in a cardboard compactor while working at a recycling plant in Winter Garden, Fla. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says there have been six deaths related to such machines nationwide since 2000.


“Recycling is the right thing to do, but we have to do it the right way,” Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, said. “That means educating and empowering recycling workers, and using proven prevention strategies which we know will reduce exposure to hazardous conditions. That’s how we can avoid tragedies like the death of a recycling worker just last week in Florida.”


The recycling industry’s on-the-job injury rate is more than twice as high as that of the average worker. That’s because many recycling centers have unsafe working conditions involving heavy machinery and exposure to hazardous items, such as hypodermic needles, toxic chemicals, and animal carcasses.


Also, these centers rely on temporary workers “who have fewer workplace protections and are less likely to be informed of their legal right to a safe and healthy workplace,” according to Corporate Crime Reporter. They also tend to get less training before they begin work.


Union shops are often safer, and their workers get the most training and are more likely to report hazardous working conditions, according to the report.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Sustainable and Safe Recycling (Partnership for Working Families, MassCOSH, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health) (pdf)

Recycling Workers Exposed to Safety Hazards and High Injury Rates (Corporate Crime Reporter)

Worker Crushed To Death In Cardboard-Compactor Accident, Police Say (by Stephanie Allen and Henry Pierson Curtis, Orlando Sentinel)


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