Legislators and recycling advocates asked the state environmental chief Wednesday why millions of dollars had been shifted out of recycling programs since the recession, saying the initiatives could have created thousands of jobs.
Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, noted that $20 million in funds that lawmakers intended to promote recycling had been reverted to the state in recent years, and an $8 million balance was currently going unused.
"It seems like there's an awful lot we could have been doing over that period of time with $20 million," Stoops said at the meeting of the state environmental advisory council.
State environmental Commissioner Tom Easterly said much of the funding for recycling programs was suspended during the 2008 recession, when Indiana, like other states, cut spending to offset lost revenue. He also said several programs had become ineffective.
"We can collect all the recyclables we want, but if we don't have someone to buy them, it doesn't make any difference," Easterly said.
But Carey Hamilton, executive director of the Indiana Recycling Coalition, said by not spending more on recycling, the state was squandering the opportunity to attract at least 20,000 jobs that could come not only from recycling services, but also industries that rely on recycled materials.
"There's a real opportunity here, an economic opportunity," Hamilton said.
Of the six million tons of trash Indiana residents throw away each year, 92 percent can be recycled, Hamilton said, and 77 manufacturers in the state use recycled materials.
Alcoa spokeswoman Sally Rideout Lambert told the panel much of the aluminum the worldwide corporation uses comes from recycled cans and similar sources.
Indiana, Lambert said, uses 2.2 billion aluminum cans every year, of which perhaps a quarter are recycled.
"So every year, Hoosiers are throwing $40 million in the landfill," she said.
State Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said Gov. Mike Pence's administration had cut the $1.1 million legislators had approved to spend on the recycling programs this year to $500,000.
A spokeswoman for Pence did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.