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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. I’ll spotlight some of them in this column.

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Meet Brandi Harleaux (#59)

I’m glad to see the next generation is taking on an active role in recycling, as the Top 100 reflects. Harleaux took over the family business South Post Oak Recycling, based in Houston, in 2020, having learned about buying and processing ferrous and non-ferrous metals from her parents.

She notes she took a detour: studying psychology and analysing leadership DNA of successful organisations. After getting her PhD, she was hired to boost business development at Walt Disney.

She is now applying her unique know-how to the world of scrap. ‘I strive for excellence,’ she tells me at the Las Vegas ISRI expo. ‘I want to make our recycling centre the Disney of the industry.’   

Meet Tony Selvaggio (#21)

I encountered him at the E-Scrap Conference in Florida in 2014, where he told me about his new venture, eSmart Recycling. He immigrated from Venezuela to the US to start his career in recycling, now running a successful e-scrap business that operates a special Tech Lab teaching underprivileged kids how to use a computer. Selvaggio considers himself a ‘social entrepreneur’. He makes sure that equipment that can be repaired is donated to charity on a regular basis; the total is at 2000+ devices.

Meet Ibukun Faluyi (#86)

Some people speak so passionately that you immediately get pulled in. I had the pleasure of running into Faluyi at this year’s IFAT tradeshow in Germany, where she took to the Innovation Stage to share her journey with EPRON.

She admits it’s not easy running Nigeria’s first producer responsibility scheme, especially for the complex electronics waste stream. But Faluyi takes this in stride and has managed to get 7 producers and 3 recyclers on board now; they collectively process around 300 tonnes of e-scrap per year.

Meet Raymond Onovwigun (#41)

‘Only 1% of the world’s recycled metals comes from the African continent,’ says Onovwigun tells me on a zoom call after I contact the plumber-turned-recycler for a story. The ceo of Romco Metals is a frequent flyer, travelling monthly from his headquarters in London to three plants in Nigeria. Onovwigun beat malaria and covid and is ‘still standing’.

He envisions an ‘ambitious’ expansion, starting with a new recycling facility in Ghana. Romco currently recycles over 5 000 tonnes of non-ferrous scrap per quarter. Onovwigun reports that revenues, at US$ 8.1 million in Q1 of this year, are up for the seventh consecutive year while production increased 112%.

Meet Giulio Airaga (#57)

The youngest member of the Airaga family followed in the footsteps of his father as ceo last summer. He joined the e-scrap recycler, based in Johannesburg, in 2015, initially serving as marketing manager. His mission was clear: to future-proof the company. This took him to many TV and radio studios, earning the nickname ‘The Voice of Desco’.

Speaking to him for a company profile in 2020, Airaga, who effectively grew up on site, tells me he owes a lot to his father, Costa.  ‘From a young age he told me: “My ceiling is your floor”. His reasoning is, I’ve brought you to this level, now you’ve got to take it from here to reach new heights.’

Meet Kyle Wiens (#35)

I remember interviewing him back in 2013, long before the right to repair campaign was ‘sexy’. As founder of online platform iFixit, he has taken apart hundreds of consumer devices and knows virtually all gadgets inside and out.

Wiens grew his community into one that reaches thousands of people daily worldwide. I respect how he doesn’t shy away from going against the stream, frequently pointing out where producers are failing from an eco-design perspective.

Mathilde Taveau (#96)

The young engineer has become a legislation specialist at trade organisation Plastics Recyclers Europe, following her work at electronics recycler Coolrec. She understand plastics on a molecular level and has a particular interest in e-scrap plastics, post-shredder residue and additives.

She lends her expertise to innovative research projects such as PLAST2bCLEANED which aims to develop an eco-friendly and economically viable recycling process for e-scrap plastics. Her most recent work is on the EU-funded Primus project, seeking to advance recycling technologies of common polymers. 

Meet Willemijn Peeters (#42) 

Dutch entrepreneur Willemijn Peeters first appeared on my radar when she won the Recycling Ambassador Award at the 2018 PRSE tradeshow in Amsterdam. We got to talking about Searious Business, which she runs to help producers and organisations ‘turn disaster into design’.

She emphasised that her network extends far beyond ‘our backyard’, frequently working with major international retailers, supermarket chains and governments to create premium quality products from plastic production waste as well as collected recyclables. Peeters adds: ‘We are now collaborating on a ground-breaking project, called Vita Nova, which aims to improve the recyclability of flexible polyethylene.’

Meet Gary Giles (#83)        

Giles founded Ogel (Lego spelled backwards), a start-up that recycles plastic scrap into flood prevention systems and mobile spaces such as offices. He pitched his innovative idea on the hit TV show Dragon’s Den and the judges were so impressed they offered £50 000 in funding to help bring Ogel to market. Reason enough  to contact him and ask for details.

Today, Giles is running a recycling workshop in the UK to produce interlinked panels made from 100% recycled polystyrene. ‘They cannot rust and are thick enough not to degrade or crack,’ he tells me. Momentum is on his side, with Giles being nominated in two categories of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards.

Meet Riva Tulpule (#92)

This 15-year-old influencer proves that you can make an impact at any age. Tulpule launched an e-scrap collection project with EnviroServe and recovered 25 tonnes in 2020 and 2021. Eager to declutter when she moved into a new home four years ago, she rallied friends and family members to donate old mobile phones, laptops and other equipment for recycling.

That collective effort racked up more than 2 000 used devices. She reached out to EnviroServe, which processes around 40 000 tonnes of e-scrap annually, to spread the recycling message. Her efforts as ‘young change maker’ earned her the Princess Diana 2020 Award.

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