When “manufacturing” is mentioned, you likely picture a factory with products rolling off an assembly line.  But there are many off-site functions that are not as obvious as a large plant in an industrial park. One of these is recycling: manufacturers are the biggest consumers of material recycled from end-of-life products and industrial scrap. In 2014 more than 135 million metric tons of outdated or obsolete scrap was transformed into raw materials which was used to produce new products in the United States.

Scrap recycling is one of the world’s first green industries. It is a pivotal player in California’s environmental protection, resource conservation, and sustainability. Since the end-of-life products and industrial scrap are recycled and are never destined for the landfill, scrap recycling supports our goal to keep 75 percent of all solid waste from going into landfills by the year 2020. It also saves energy. Our climate change plan notes that “…recycling of materials decreases upstream greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction and processing of virgin materials…” Energy we save by recycling can be used for heating our homes or powering our automobiles.

We need recyclers to stay in California. But they, like other manufacturers, are challenged by competition in global markets, need to find skilled workers and must comply with stringent regulations.  This year the California Manufacturers and Technology Association is pushing for tax policies to encourage long-term investments in new equipment and is requesting new funding for career and technical education.

We hope this growth agenda will support companies that make up the critical recycling infrastructure in California.  For example, Graphic Packaging International, an employer of over 500 people statewide, uses 100 percent recycled paper to produce their folding carton material.  Their Santa Clara mill — one of California’s two remaining paperboard mills — is highly energy efficient, co-generating its own electricity and selling the excess power to the local utility.

In Fontana, the 240 highly skilled workers at Vista Metals use industrial aluminum scrap, in addition to their own recycled specialty aluminum. This allows them to manufacture a wide variety of aluminum products for aerospace, automotive, and semiconductor firms. This process assures that Vista Metals utilizes every bit of their product and still guarantees the highest quality aluminum for their customers. Other metal recycling is done by Schnitzer Steel Industries, a global leader in the recycling industry with more than twenty auto and metals recycling facilities in California. The processed recycled feedstock from these facilities is then sold to steel mills and foundries around the world, including its steel mill in Oregon.

Public health is protected by the recycling operations of Quemetco, the most advanced lead recycling facility in the world.  The 240 employees in the City of Industry reclaim lead from used car batteries and other scrap at an impressive 98 percent recycling rate to be used again in new cars.  Keeping lead out of the environment and making it safely available for productive uses is Quemetco’s highest priority in California.

California’s environmental and economic leadership depends on improving the business climate for every plant and factory, including the recyclers we don’t often think about.

Dorothy Rothrock is President of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association

Originally published in OC Register.