The Netherlands – Manfred Beck, founder of Recycling International magazine, has a pretty impressive track record for attending prominent recycling events worldwide, including no less than 50 BIR conferences. Beck acknowledges that the one currently being held in Amsterdam is extra special to him as it will be his last such event. This ‘bittersweet’ milestone didn’t go unnoticed; commending his extensive knowledge of the global scrap industry, BIR president David Chiao offered Beck a special merit award.
‘I have spent more than two decades travelling the globe to meet up with key recycling players in Spain, China, India – you name it. Being part of the BIR community has proven integral to reporting ongoing industry developments,’ says Beck, who stepped back from his position as chief editor of Recycling International in January to focus on the new publication Recycling Technology.
He fondly recalls first visiting the infamous Forbidden City palace for a BIR reception, after which he toured China, taking in both the ‘rich culture’ as well as visiting recycling facilities. ‘Besides walking along the Great Wall of China, I saw some state-of-the-art recycling plants and also some horribly basic ones. Most of all, I learned that whatever the circumstances may be, travelling and meeting people from other corners of the world helps put things into perspective,’ Beck states.
He observes that trends like scrap metal theft have a way of resurfacing when faced with a volatile economy. ‘You see the strangest things end up at the scrapyard sometimes. A bronze head of a Lenin statue, for instance, or parts taken from dismantled tanks. Such rare objects warrant a scrap museum – and I know they exist because I have visited quite a few sites proudly displaying their own collection of special pieces. In that sense, this industry isn’t just about materials, it’s about history,’ Beck adds.
During the BIR conference, several speakers mentioned the US election. Beck has no doubt that the outcome may impact the recycling industry, quite possible for the better. ‘Clinton and Trump don’t agree on many topics, but at least they both think free trade is a good thing,’ he points out. ‘And I am happy that both BIR and ISRI have made it their mission to liaison with authority figures to push for better legislation for the recycling industry,’ Beck notes.
Looking ahead, he suspects that a win for Clinton would likely see her extend president Obama’s drive for more sustainable practices. ‘She will probably focus a lot more on the circular economy,’ Beck asserts. As for a scenario with Trump as president, Beck speculates: ‘Well, if he doesn’t get shot four days into office, his commercial mindset may increase production, which could result in a higher utilisation of recycled materials. At this point, who knows what will happen?’
While addressing the topic of politics, Beck regrets to say that in many cases politicians often seem to forget that the recycling industry is about much more than cutting emissions and saving trees. ‘Ultimately, recycling is a solid industry that makes economic sense. And what I love about it is that it is an industry that relies on intuition and innovation in equal measure,’ Beck says.
‘People are passionate, take chances and invest in research & development. They are always discovering new recycling methods and building more advanced machines to shred, sort etc.,’ Beck notes.
‘Granted, there will always be ups and downs. Metal prices may be disappointing, material volumes may be low; but I am not worried about the future,’ he concludes. ‘I’ve been in the game for a long time so I well know that, when it comes down to it, this is an industry that is full of potential.’
A review of the BIR Amsterdam conference will be published in the November issue of Recycling International.
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