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Episode 140: Talking about the Evolving Nature of Recycling with ISRI

We spoke with Robin Wiener of ISRI about developing the next generation of recyclers, the role of the recycling industry in environmental justice, the importance of engaging with brands and more.

Liz Bothwell

February 7, 2022

In this NothingWasted! episode, we chat with Robin Wiener, president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). We spoke with Wiener about developing the next generation of recyclers, the role of the recycling industry in environmental justice, the importance of engaging with brands and more.

ISRI is the Voice of the Recycling Industry™, promoting safe, economically sustainable and environmentally responsible recycling through networking, advocacy, and education. 

Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion:

Waste360: Please tell us about what ISRI does and the important work you are doing there.

Weiner: ISRI is a trade association for the for-profit recycling industry, so we represent all those companies that are processing, brokering, consuming recycled [materials] — a very large segment of the circular economy because our members are sourcing from residential, commercial, industrial. The framework we’re working in, and all the things we’re doing for the industry — whether it’s networking, education and training, or advocacy — has really expanded to include a larger number of stakeholders. For instance, in the past year, we launched a brands council because we recognized how important that relationship is with the brands so we can talk about recyclability and designs for recycling and really effectuate change. The bottom line is, our mission is to promote the safe, environmentally responsible, and economically sustainable recycling industry… 

Waste360: What excites you the most about what’s happening in recycling right now?

Weiner: The thing that excites me the most are the members themselves; the people are so wonderful and committed to responsible recycling, so I love working with them. And there’s never a dull moment. We’re doing a lot of work on workforce development and trying to help widen that pipeline for getting people interested in working in the industry — whether it’s our youth outreach efforts, efforts in working with HBCUs, tribal colleges, trade schools… We’re also doing a lot of work in safety and environmental compliance — in order to be not only responsible recyclers but also work as partners in the communities where our members work. We’re trying to help the industry tell the story of our role in sustainability, and that’s probably one of the most exciting things for me right now.

Waste360: Could you tell us more about the youth program your team established?

Weiner: We started it as outreach to raise awareness about recycling because a lot of people still don’t understand what recycling is all about.  So, one thing we realized we could do is reach out to K-12 students to help them better understand and get excited about recycling. Those are our future leaders and hopefully future recyclers. We developed a partnership with JASON Learning, which is a nonprofit focused on STEM education, to develop a curriculum and annual contest. That was really our first step toward workforce development. And now we have a program we’re piloting this year to get information out and recruit students into the industry.

Waste360: What are your thoughts on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) at the moment?

Weiner: A lot of people look to EPR as a solution but, to be honest, we don’t. The issue with EPR is it is essentially manipulating the market and disrupting existing markets. We think EPR should focus only on difficult-to-recycle materials. And we like to look at the specific challenges faced in the stream, and how we can address those. It’s spurring end markets — like policies that either encourage or mandate recycled content in products.

Listen to the full episode above.

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About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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