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The reputation and the narrative

‘As an industry, how do we appeal the next generation?’ EMR Group ceo Chris Sheppard asked himself (and a panel) at the latest BIR World Recycling Convention. Sheppard, who’s the son of EMR founder Phillip Sheppard, didn’t have a magic solution but he did offer food for thought about something recyclers and the sector continue to struggle with: their reputation.

‘We used to describe our industry as one “you either love or hate”,’ said Sheppard by way of illustration. ‘So there lies an enormous opportunity.’ In other words: there is work to be done to change the reputation or, to use a popular buzz word in this discussion, change the ‘narrative’.

Recyclers all agree they have a fantastic story to tell. Being part of the circular economy, surfing the sustainability wave, or helping to fight climate change all make recycling a potentially interesting environment for the younger generation to work in. And yet, it seems, the industry cannot get that message across. ‘If we can connect the simplicity of the business with the “green” sustainable message, we can really make this an attractive industry to work in,’ suggested Sheppard.

Another aspect, raised by panel moderator Michael Lion, was ‘we don’t have a reputation for rewarding people’. Rewarding is important, Sheppard agreed, but at the end of the day people want a job they feel good about. ‘It’s for this reason fewer and fewer people choose to work in the banking sector.’

It’s clear recycling industry leaders are getting the message about doing something to try to change the narrative. One is US recycler John Sacco. He didn’t wait for campaigns from national or global recycling organisations but instead launched his own private mission, as you can read in the November/December issue of Recycling International. Another individual trying to make a contribution in her own part of the world is Jhoanna Rosales, founder of the first official e-scrap collection scheme in Ecuador.

Both, in their different ways, are inspiring narratives.

Martijn Reintjes, Chief Editor Recycling International

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