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Be kind, rewind: my favourite stories of 2022

It’s incredible how time races on. Even so, the people I meet and stories they share stay close to my heart. It seems wrong to focus solely on today’s scoops and looming print deadlines. Instead, I’d like to make a space for some of my favourite stories from last year.

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Whether you run into a researcher, ceo or technology provider – they each have a lot in common. People  in the recycling industry are hands-on, driven, precise and resourceful, with their eyes usually on the bigger picture. They think across value chains, geographical borders and technical limitations. In short, they are up for a challenge.

I’ve selected these articles to showcase their ambition in a fast-changing world.

Respecting the nine lives of discarded electronics

It’s important to consider the untapped potential of ‘retired’ electronics replaced by society’s latest gadgets. ‘The holy grail is that, at some point, recycling won’t be necessary anymore,’ according to Jelle Slenters of Sims Recycling Solutions.

Speaking at the E-waste World Expo in Frankfurt, he introduced a new term: ‘greenstocking’. It explains how Sims has partnered with software major Oracle to collect e-scrap from 140 countries across the world. The idea is to reuse, refurbish or remanufacture as much as possible.

Allied Alloys living the American scrap dream

Nidhi Turakhia has grown into her role of executive vice president of Allied Alloys with confidence and flair since joining the family business in 2006. ‘I joined during the great recession and helped it go from nearly filing for bankruptcy to the profitable and flourishing company it is now.’

‘It all starts with my dad, Mukesh,’ she recounts. ‘He was trained to be a pharmacist and truly built our businesses from the ground up as an immigrant with barely anything in his pockets.’ Turakhia is proud to say the family company honours her father’s journey. ‘Close to 90% of non-ferrous we broker is sold directly to India.’

‘E-mobility is coming – we have a lot of figuring out to do’

The fast-evolving automotive market is sending ripples of change downstream. Someone witnessing this first-hand is Ingrid Niessing, ex-ceo of Dutch car recycling pioneer ARN. The organisation treats around 180 000 to 195 000 vehicles every year. I sat down with her for our ‘women in scrap’ series.

Looking ahead, she muses: ‘As a realist, I know it’s practically impossible to achieve a 100% recycling rate for cars. There will always be some losses in the value chain, no matter how advanced our systems and R&D efforts are.’

Tanaka: circular precious metals are already a reality

Japanese firm Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo, which processes over 60 tonnes of gold and silver per year alone, is a precious metals production and recycling heavyweight. Its headquarters in Tokyo are complemented by subsidiaries in both the USA and Europe. Andrew Farry, business strategy manager at Tanaka, goes over the company’s ‘green’ vision for the future.

‘Whether you’re based in Toyko, Amsterdam or New York, recycling precious metals is a highly competitive field,’ Farry says. ‘There are a handful of market leaders worldwide. I’m proud to say we’re one of them. Whether you’re talking about Umicore in Belgium or Heraeus in Germany, to name some examples, there is a lot of respect between us. We don’t fight to steal each other’s business, and we abide by high standards.’

‘I want us to be the Disney of scrap!’

US entrepreneur Brandi Harleaux is hardly the typical recycler; nor is she a typical ceo. She has two degrees in psychology and worked at Disney before taking over the family company, South Post Oak Recycling Center, based in Houston, in 2020. She claimed spot #59 on our 2022 Top 100 and underlines she is eager to leave her own mark on the industry.

‘I’m particularly interested in pursuing prospects in the Caribbean and South Africa. Our plans on this front are still at an early stage but I know there is so much more to the scrap scene than on our domestic market.’

Opening the black box: the best of sensor-based sorting

Researcher Steffen Rüger of the Fraunhofer Institute believes artificial intelligence (AI) can significantly enhance aluminium recovery. He advocates combining dual X-ray transmission technology and deep learning to sort a database of almost 75 000 metal fractions into pure aluminium. Lab experiments yielded output fractions with a 91.7% purity and similarly high recovery levels.

In Rüger’s view, the final deployment of innovative deep learning systems depends mostly on whether or not they are accepted by society and industry. ‘That’s an easier-said-than-done scenario,’ the researcher notes. ‘With new technology, people don’t understand how it works – if they can believe the hype. That’s why transparency is key.’

100 years in scrap: Belgian Scrap Terminal still steams ahead

‘Our heart beats for recycling,’ says Caroline Craenhals, ceo of Belgian Scrap Terminal, when talking about her family company. She has a track record of 20 years in the business, during which time she has helped move ‘mountains of scrap’. The next generation leader sat down with us to celebrate her firm’s 100th anniversary while casting an eye to a bold, new chapter.

‘We currently operate five sites in the Antwerp area and process around 1.5 million tonnes of material a year, ranging from end-of-life vehicles to washing machines and other bulky electronics,’ the ceo says. ‘I often compare the recycling sector to a Swiss watch; everything runs smoothly, equipment does what it needs to do, the people involved know exactly what’s expected of them.’

Most popular columns of 2022:

What you see is what you get? >> A picture is worth a thousand words, according to the famous saying. But what does that mean when walking the halls of trade shows? Or scouring media platforms like Shutterstock for images? I don’t always like the pictures looking back at me.

Celebrating global innovators: Let’s hear it for the newcomers! >> During my 10+ years at Recycling International, I’ve met many veterans of industry. You’ll no doubt see prominent names in our annual Top 100. But let’s not forget the ceo’s of promising start-ups, tech-savvy researchers and creative consultants that nudge big brands in the right direction.

You can’t touch this >> Crowds are supposed to make us feel safe. As a female journalist travelling the world solo, I admit that’s generally how I feel. A tradeshow or conference floor is my habitat. As I return to Aachen, Germany, I am reminded that it’s wise to keep up your guard as not all fellow delegates have good intentions.

And… action! Recycling goes to Hollywood >> On a recent trip to the US, following the ISRI expo in Las Vegas, it was refreshing to see that Hollywood studios and popular tourist attractions like the Grand Canyon national park support the recycling message.

I wonder who I’ll meet this year. I’m always interested in new perspectives — so if you want to recommend anyone do get in touch via [email protected] — thanks!

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