Green Jobs, Green Money!
By Ernst VanBergeijk, Ph.D., M.S.W.
Can the recycling of consumer electronics lead to jobs for people with disabilities?
As a parent of a child with a disability, two of the questions that keep me up at night are: “How will my son survive once I am gone?” and “What will he do to support himself?” These questions also drive my quest to find jobs for my students that produce a living wage. I search over research and government agencies for labor trends and effective training techniques so that my program can help young adults with disabilities find and maintain employment.
One of the growing sectors in the U.S. economy is the Green Goods and Services (GSS) industry. The GGS industry is defined by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as “…jobs in businesses that produce goods and provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. These goods and services are sold to customers, and include research and development, installation, and maintenance services” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013a). Green Goods and Services include one or more of the five following categories:
- Energy from renewable sources
- Energy Efficiency
- Pollution reduction and removal, greenhouse gas reduction, and recycling and reuse
- Natural resource conservation
- Environmental compliance, education and training, and public awareness (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013a).
A subsector of the GGS industry involves the recycling of e-waste. E-waste can be defined as the recycling of consumer electronic goods. The Environmental Protection Agency identifies e-waste as the fastest growing waste stream in America (Do Something.org 2014). Americans throw away 80-85% of their electronic goods (Do Something.org, 2014). Our cell phones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, printers, and video game systems wind up in landfills. Globally, we generate 20-50 metric tons of e-waste a year (Do Something.org, 2014). Although by volume e-waste only accounts for 2% of landfill, it represents 70% of our nation’s toxic waste (Do Something.org, 2014). This surprising statistic makes sense when one stops and thinks about all of the plastic, the batteries and different metals (e.g. gold, silver, copper, palladium etc.) that are used in the construction of these modern day conveniences. The recycling of e-waste presents an opportunity for meaningful employment for individuals with a variety of disabilities.
The Green Goods and Services industry employed 3.4 million Americans in 2011 which represents 2.6% of all jobs. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013b). Salaries in this field vary widely. Much of the variance in salaries is due to the level of education and training needed to fulfill the job. Geography also plays a role in salaries with some regions of the country paying better than others. In the e-waste recycling industry, the salaries will likewise depend upon these factors as well as in what stage of the recycling process the individual works.
There are three stages of the e-waste recycling process where individuals with disabilities can work. The first stage involves an employee logging in the electronic item, (referred to as an asset in the industry) in a software tracking system. The person fulfilling this role is referred to as an auditor. The auditor then assesses the asset to determine if it can be refurbished, re-sold or donated. The auditor might determine that the asset has parts that can be refurbished and re-sold, or he or she might determine the entire asset needs to be recycled. The auditor logs the determination into the asset tracking system and turns the asset over to the employees responsible for the second stage of the process: the de-manufacturers. The de-manufacturers have a skill set that includes the identification of all the components that make up an electronic device and they possess good fine motor skills. They are responsible for disassembling the electronic devices. The third stage involves the sorting and shipping of the components to other organization that will recycle the plastics or metal down the precious metals. The employees that perform this function have good gross motor skills and the ability to sort items. They are known as materials handlers.
Although the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track jobs in the e-waste industry, it does track the income of workers in the traditional recycling and manufacturing industries. Auditors will have the highest level of skills and require a vocational certificate or possibly an associate degree. Electro-mechanics are a job title that the BLS does track. They have duties and training similar to auditors in the e-waste field. The median income for Electro-mechanics was $51,820 in 2012 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014a). De-manufacturers are also a job title that the BLS does not track. However, the BLS does track assemblers and fabricators which have comparable skills. The median income for assemblers and fabricators was $28,580 in 2012 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014b). It could be argued that de-manufacturers’ wages may be higher. Their wages may be closer to that of computer and office machine repair technicians’ whose median income was $38,310 in 2013 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014c), because of their knowledge of computers and other electronic devices. Materials handlers have the lowest level of training requirements. Consequently, their compensation is significantly lower than that of an auditor. Materials handlers’ median income was $23,570 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014a) in the traditional recycling field.
Where can a student with a disability receive training to work in the Green Goods and Services field?
e-Works™ Electronic Services Incorporated (ESI)is a leader in the GGS industry and the field of electronics recycling. This not for profit organization’s mission is to hire people with developmental disabilities. “e-Works achieves this mission by providing competitive recycling, refurbishment and resale services of all types of office and industrial technologies and consumer electronics” (e-works, 2013). They partner with local social service agencies that provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities. e-works™ trains and certifies the employees of these agencies to work with individuals with disabilities in the e-waste recycling field. They have done this throughout the country and have set up recycling facilities in these communities that provide real jobs that pay a living wage.
New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program has partnered with e-Work™ ESI to create a 3 certificate programs in computer and electronics: (1) Auditing; (2) De-manufacturing; and (3) Materials handling. This is an exciting addition to the Vocational Independence Program curriculum. The program will launch fall 2014.
Do Something.org (2014). 11 Facts about e-Waste. Retrieved from: https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-e-waste July 22, 2014.
e-Works ESI (2013). The e-Works Mission. Retrieved from http://www.eworksesi.org/mission.html August 15, 2014.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2013a). Frequently asked questions #2: What is the Green Goods and Services Survey (GGSS) definition of green goods and services? Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ggs/ggsfaq.htm#2 August 20, 2014.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013b). Green Goods and Services News Release March 19, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ggqcew.htm July 22, 2014.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014a). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/print/electro-mechanical-technicians.htm August 15, 2014.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014b). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/print/assemblers-and-fabricators.htm August 15, 2014.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014c). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes492011.htm August 15, 2014.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014d). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/green/recycling/#sorters August 15, 2014.
Ernst VanBergeijk is the Associate Dean and Executive Director, at New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program (VIP). The Vocational Independence Program is a U.S. Department of Education approved Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) program. nyit.edu/vip . Dr. VanBergeijk also administers Introduction to Independence (I to I), a seven week summer college preview program for students ages 16 and up.
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