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Waste Management and RecyclingIn 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that of the 250 million tons of waste generated in the U.S., approximately 1/3, or 83 million tons, was recycled or composted. Since 1985, the percentage of waste recycled in the U.S. has doubled, and the trend is likely to continue.1 As the recycling industry continues to grow, so do the number of available jobs, each with its own safety and health risks.


In 2008, the Waste Management and Remediation Services industry had a fatality rate of 20.3 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, which is over 5 times the fatality rate for all industries.2 Nearly 60% of these fatalities were transportation related, while 12% were contacted/struck by and 8% were exposures to harmful substances or fires/explosions.
Scrap Metal Recycling:

Metal scrap recycling, also called secondary metal processing, is a large industry that processes, in the U.S. alone, 56 million tons of scrap iron and steel (including 10 million tons of scrap automobiles), 1.5 million tons of scrap copper, 2.5 million tons of scrap aluminum, 1.3 million tons of scrap lead, 300,000 tons of scrap zinc and 800,000 tons of scrap stainless steel, and smaller quantities of other metals, on a yearly basis.

Scrap metals, in general, are divided into two basic categories: ferrous and nonferrous. Ferrous scrap is metal that contains iron, while nonferrous metals are metals that do not contain iron.

Many workers are employed by scrap metal recycling industries. Private, nonferrous recycling industries in the U.S. employed approximately 16,000 employees in 2001.1 (Figures were not available for ferrous recycling industries.) In 2001, those nonferrous recycling industries reported approximately 3,000 injuries and illnesses. The most common causes of illness were poisoning (e.g., lead or cadmium poisoning), disorders associated with repeated trauma, skin diseases or disorders, and respiratory conditions due to inhalation of, or other contact with, toxic agents. Of those injuries and illnesses, 701 cases involved days away from work. The most common events or exposures leading to these cases were contact with an object or piece of equipment; overextension; and exposure to a harmful substance. The most common types of these injuries were sprains and strains; heat burns; and cuts, lacerations, and punctures. (BLS, 2003).

OSHA has published Guidance for the Identification and Control of Safety and Health Hazards in Metal Scrap Recycling [PDF*], which is the best resource currently available from OSHA.
Cardboard Baling:

Many companies throughout the country use cardboard compacting machines to reduce the volume of cardboard stored on site (companies typically store the bundled cardboard until picked up for recycling). The unintended activation of a baling machine can have catastrophic results.
NIOSH FACE Report: Recycling Center Laborer Crushed in Baling Machine - Tennessee


U.S. EPA - Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008

2Hours-based fatality rates by industry, occupation, and selected demographic characteristics, 2008

Accessibility Assistance: Contact the OSHA Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management at (202) 693-2300 for assistance accessing PDF materials.

*These files are provided for downloading.