With Christmas trees littering curbsides across the country this month, you might be wondering whether thrown-away tannenbaums could be put to better use. In this three-part series, we examine some of the ways that holiday discards could be salvaged and re-purposed for coastal restoration.
In our previous two posts, we looked at past efforts to recycle Christmas trees for wetland restoration work in the Pelican State, and considered some of the ways that alternative materials like plastics from artificial trees could be used in environmental projects. In this post, we’ll estimate the number of jobs that could be generated from these initiatives.
Greensleeves and Green-Collar Jobs
How many people could be employed by Christmas tree programs in Louisiana? Earlier projects relied heavily on volunteer labor, but a renewed initiative could focus more on putting unemployed people to work. Using RIMS economic ratios from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, our earlier estimates of job creation from wetland restoration, and information from former participants in the Parish Coastal Wetlands Restoration Program (PCWRP), we can do some back-of-the-envelope calculations on the employment impact.
Conventional recycling programs have already been cited as generators of jobs and economic activity in different states. In a July 2001 study commissioned by the National Recycling Coalition, consultants from R.W. Beck, Inc. noted that recycling and reuse companies employed more than 1.1 million people across the United States. The average annual salary for workers at recycling and reuse firms was $32,700 – nearly 10% higher than the national mean for all occupations. These employees, engaged in the reprocessing of organic material, plastic discards, and other waste products, generated more than $230 billion in gross revenues for nearly 60,000 firms across America. Taking into account the direct, indirect, and induced effects of the recycling and reuse industry, the researchers estimated that the sector accounted for 2.7% of U.S. GDP in 2001. In a similar way, a revived and expanded Christmas tree program, covering a broader set of recycled holiday materials to use in wetland restoration, could create part-time and full-time jobs in coastal Louisiana.
To estimate the proposed program’s effect on employment, we spoke with Sydney Dobson, who served as the last head of the PCWRP, and Deanna McKneely, who coordinated Christmas tree coastal fence projects through Les Reflections du Bayou, a non-profit organization based in Lafourche Parish. From them, we gathered some information about expenditure on tree recycling programs and what sorts of jobs would be involved.
For a typical parish-wide project, one would need to hire a sanitation company to pick-up trees at curbsides, or establish collection bins in town centers the end of the holidays. One would also need carpenters or other workers to help with constructing and repairing the "cribs" into which the dead trees are compressed. Finally, there would be expenditure on twine, scissors, protective eyewear for volunteers, etc. All together, this brings the cost of a typical project to several thousand dollars.
Let’s suppose that the annual state-wide expenditure on “treecycling” programs for real and artificial trees would be $500,000, with
(i) $150,000 spent on collecting and recycling natural trees,
(ii) $300,000 spent on pickup and reprocessing of fake trees, and
(iii) the remaining $50,000 spent on botanical and chemical research projects.
Let’s assume that an additional $500,000 would be spent on using these recycled products for wetland restoration initiatives, such that the total annual expenditure on a revived and expanded Christmas tree program would be $1 million.
For (i), (ii), and (iii), we can use the state-level RIMS II final demand employment multipliers for “wood product manufacturing” (18.2580 jobs per $1 million of output), “plastics and rubber products manufacturing” (11.3088 jobs per $1 million), and “professional, scientific, and technical services” (18.7032 jobs per $1 million) in Louisiana to estimate the number of jobs that could be created by a treecycling/restoration program in the coastal zone. As in previous job studies on this blog, we’ll adjust the multiplier effects down by 6% to account for inflation, since the latest RIMS II multipliers were calculated using 2006 wage and price data.
Based on these figures, the total jobs impact from the $150,000 successor to the PCWRP would be $150,000 * 18.2580 jobs/$1 million * (1 – 0.06) ≈ 2.57 FTE job-years. The total number of full-time equivalent job-years stemming from the $300,000 reprocessing program for PVCs would be $300,000 * 11.3088 jobs/$1 million * (1 – 0.06) ≈ 3.19, and the total number of FTE job-years from the related research projects would be $50,000 * 18.7032 jobs/$1 million * (1 – 0.06) ≈ 0.88. Altogether, the $500,000 recycling/reprocessing phase of the project would generate the equivalent of 2.57 + 3.19 + 0.88 ≈ 6.64 full-time jobs in Louisiana.
If we then use a jobs/spending ratio of 9.45 FTE job-years/$1 million for the wetland restoration portion of the program (based on our calculated figure from the Central Wetlands analysis), we can estimate that $500,000 spent on brush fence installation, revetment construction, and other projects using these recycled materials would create the equivalent of $500,000 * 9.45 jobs/$1 million ≈ 4.73 full-time jobs in Louisiana. Altogether, the $1 million spent per annum on reusing recycled Christmas decorations for coastal restoration projects could generate 6.64 + 4.73 ≈ 11.37 full-time positions in Louisiana, yielding a cumulative jobs-to-spending ratio of 11.37 FTE job-years per million.
Such a program would create work in “blue-collar” sectors like sanitation and bulk transportation. In addition, it could provide new opportunities for “white-collar” workers in fields like biological chemistry and polymer research. The development of new types of pine mulch from recycled natural trees could relieve pressure on wetland cypress stocks in southern Louisiana, while the reprocessing of PVCs and PCBs from artificial tree components could tap into Louisiana’s existing strengths in chemical manufacturing.
Nice Idea, But Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees
You might be wondering how the projects we’ve described in this post would be funded.
Because the State of Louisiana is facing tough budget choices over the next several years, we’re not suggesting that it should shoulder the burden of paying for this program all on its own. Instead, we think it would make sense to draw on a mix of private and public support to bring some or all of these proposals to fruition.
Initially, the program could be financed through EPA grants or awards from corporate foundations. Alternatively, funding for this recycling/restoration initiative could come from Louisiana’s businesses themselves, through the promotion and creation of targeted tax credits focusing on plastic recycling and organic waste disposal. The Pelican State already has a 20% income tax creditfor recycling equipment that exclusively processes postconsumer or recovered materials. However, Louisiana could incentivize artificial tree reprocessing by implementing a reclaimed plastic tax credit similar to the one that has been used in Oregon and other states. Finally, the program could be funded through voluntary donations to the recycling initiative at the point-of-sale for natural and artificial trees (akin to the “green offsets” purchased by people buying air tickets). By funding recycling upfront, the money could then be used at the end of each holiday season to implement the proposals we’ve mentioned in this post.
By creating jobs, enhancing the local tax base, and contributing to Louisiana’s wetland restoration efforts, a Christmas tree program of the sort we’ve described could provide new opportunities for residents of the Gulf Coast. Protective coastal enclosures made from recycled biomass and erosion control membranes made from recycled plastic could be used in the MRGO restoration and some of the other environmental projects that EDF has pushed for in southern Louisiana. With the right mix of private investment, individual enterprise and government support, a recycling program that uses natural and artificial trees to curb coastal land loss could bring comfort and joy to Louisianans for years to come.