Skip to main content

Meet the leading ladies of recycling

Prof Veena Sahajwalla secured spot #20 this year!

The global recycling industry is welcoming ever more women, which our recently published “TOP 100” ranking demonstrates. Do you wonder who made the list this year? Let’s find out.

Check the entire TOP 100 list here >>

#63 Wareerath Akkalatham, ceo of Trident Steel  (Thailand)

Akkalatham is a tough business women who started her own scrap metal company near the Thai coastal town of Pattaya. Her company operates two locations that rely on a mix of Asian and European shearing, baling and handling equipment. Akkalatham says she keeps her eyes wide open to follow trends in the global market and was glad to invest in proven solutions developed by Italian firm Danieli, which has several offices in Thailand and Vietnam. This equipment will help expand Trident Steel’s operations year-on-year, in line with her long-term growth strategy.

#15 Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, (USA)

Wiener joined ISRI in 1989 and has been president since 2000, representing 1 300 member companies operating in nearly 4 000 locations across the US while lobbying with recycling stakeholders in 34 countries. Wiener is a caring, family-oriented individual who speaks out on important hot topics including trade policies, workplace safety and technology, ensuring the voice of recycling at the top levels of state and federal government. She is also a regular guest on podcasts and TV and radio news broadcasts.

Wiener is also an advocate for women’s participation in the global recycling industry. This ambitious figurehead secured a law degree after studying chemical engineering at Pennsylvania University, where she was president of the Society of Women’s Chapter. Wiener supports non-profit organisations and eco-friendly charities such as Keep America Beautiful.

#89 Esethu Cenga, ceo for ReWoven (South Africa)

Cenga is a proud textiles recycling pioneer active in the Cape Town area. Rewoven, which she launched in 2018, creates quality fabric from recycled textile waste diverted from landfill. The company collects off-cuts generated by clothing manufacturers in the production process. The material is sorted and processed into fibres which are then re-spun and re-woven. ‘Our recycled fabric is the same quality as that of virgin cotton,’ Cenga exclaims. She insists that sustainability is a natural part of African culture as its people are ‘inherently connected to nature’ and want to extend the lives of products as long as possible.

#20 Prof Veena Sahajwalla, founder of the SMART Centre (Australia)

Sahajwalla believes in the power of ‘big ideas’, which she developed at the University of North South Wales in Australia. Her commercialised electric arc furnace ‘green’ steelmaking process utilises millions of waste tyres otherwise destined for landfill as a partial replacement for coke. Sahajwalla launched the world’s first ‘e-waste microfactory’ in 2018, and established a similar facility dedicated to plastic scrap in 2019.

She has a very clear message for curious young engineers and entrepreneurs on the verge of stepping into the recycling sector: ‘Keep persevering with ideas and their applications – speak out and make sure your voice is heard, even when it is difficult.’

#55 Nicole Bassett, co-founder of The Renewal Workshop (USA)

Entrepreneur Bassett realised the global fashion industry, which produces over 100 billion garments each year, was seriously flawed. At her company’s headquarters in Hood River, Oregon, her crew cleans, sorts, and repairs clothing to give each garment new life. ‘Renewed apparel’ is sold either back to the brands or partner retailers or through The Renewal Workshop’s online marketplace. Not a single item goes to landfill. ‘Pieces that are too damaged are sent to the local recycling partners in our network,’ Bassett says. She hopes this will boost the US textiles recycling rate, which is currently stuck at roughly 15%. Bassett established her first overseas facility in Amsterdam in 2019.

#2 Johanna Leshabane, founder of Bophelo Recycling (South Africa)

The South African entrepreneur describes Bophelo Recycling as a ‘waste buy-back centre’ that collects recyclable PET plastic from informal settlements, households and schools in the Ermelo region. Leshabane built her business from the ground up and now has 11 full-time staff and 20 part-time waste pickers. The company has collected over 45 tonnes of plastic scrap since it launched in 2017 and the founder cites a 79% increase in collection volumes since it opened its doors.

She says the power of a grassroots enterprise like hers, employing local people and teaching them practical skills, is vital in developing nations across Africa. ‘I hope to expand operations to other towns and rural settlements in the coming months. I want to teach more people how they can start their own recycling business.’

#45 Susie Burrage, managing director of Recycled Products (UK)

‘I’m a people person and the industry is a great bunch of people,’ Burrage told Recycling International in 2020. Her grandfather was a founder member in London of the National Federation of Scrap Iron and Steel in 1919. A century later, Burrage is the fourth generation of her family working in the scrap industry and is proud to be president of the British Metals Recycling Association. She is also an active member of EuRIC and BIR.

Burrage is an advocate of more women entering the recycling sector although she is against promoting women if they are not capable of doing the job. ‘Women were always in the industry but we tended to do the office jobs. The industry’s becoming more and more regulated and we are coming to the fore.’

#14 Caroline Craenhals, ceo of Belgian Scrap Terminal (Belgium)

More and more women occupy top positions in companies across the broad scrap sector and Craenhals is proof of this growing trend. Craenhals is the fourth generation to lead the family business, since 2019. After college, she joined the firm and started from scratch. ‘I’ve done everything, even operating a material handler’, she says in an interview with the online platform Flows.de. Based in the port of Antwerp, Belgian Scrap Terminal is among the biggest metal recyclers in Belgium.

Craenhals finds it motivating and rewarding to work in a business that continuously searches for better techniques and more valuable resources ‘as well as exploring new possibilities for a better world’. She describes herself as ‘a dynamic women in a man’s world’ and believes women can make a difference in recycling. ‘It’s not all about muscles: women really fit in this industry. Sure, women’s logic is different from men’s. The good thing is, we need both.’

#56 Catherine Lenaerts, managing director of Febelauto (Belgium)

Lenaerts knows everything about end-of-life vehicles, how car design is evolving and the challenges facing car makers and recyclers. She is also the managing director of Febelauto’s new spin-off venture Watt4Life. ‘This initiative focusses entirely on transforming used car batteries into energy storage systems, which are in high demand,’ she tells us. So Lenaerts is an advocate for both car and battery recyclers and believes the timing couldn’t be better as industry is on the threshold of a significant e-mobility movement.

#70 Dr Valerie Shulman, director of ETRA (France)

Shulman’s expertise in tyre recycling dates back over 25 years, which she has brought to the fore in her role at the European Tyre Recycling Association. She wrote the book on tyre recycling: introducing terminology, writing scientific reports, passionately sharing statistics at international congresses and acting as a global advocate for recyclers across the continent. Her efforts earned a lifetime achievement award at the inaugural 2021 ReCircle Awards, organised by industry partners and Tyre & Rubber Recycling magazine. Shulman (on the left in photo) tells us that she regrets that dumped tyres and stockpiles still dominate the conversation rather than ‘new and sophisticated applications’.

Sadly, Shulman passed away following a long battle with cancer earlier this summer.

#47 Jacqueline Lotzkar, vice president of Pacific Metals International (Canada)

Lotzkar has become a driving force behind the family business which was launched by her great-grandfather Leon in 1912. The young and ambitious businesswomen started out as a trader in 2014, after which she managed to rise through the ranks serving in various HR and consultancy roles. She is a well-known spokesperson for family businesses in North America, as well as an advocate for women in the recycling industry.

Lotzkar, who studied in Spain, Austria and Taiwan, is aware the global recycling industry is forever changing. ‘If you want to be successful, you have to be quick and agile.’ She believes that empathy, a strong sense of curiosity, language skills and discussing fresh ideas with peers are a must for anyone wanting to make it in the highly diverse recycling industry.

#81 Alicia García-Franco Zúñiga, director-general of the Spanish recycling federation FER (Spain)

You could argue that her name alone would justify a presence in our list. Locked-down for weeks in her Madrid apartment, García-Franco Zúñiga kept us informed on how Spain’s recycling sector was coping with Covid-19. The Spanish capital was among the places in Europe worst hit by the first wave of the pandemic. ‘It feels like being in a bad movie. The many deaths, the empty streets, you cannot go anywhere. It is all so surreal,’ she told RI at the peak of the crisis.

Many facilities temporarily closed their doors or were being run at minimum capacity. Recyclers lost ‘millions and millions’ in turnover due to the coronavirus, according to FER’s director-general. The Spanish recyclers federation has 234 member companies (16 000 employees) representing 40% of Spain’s recycling industry and a turnover of EUR 4 billion out of a total EUR 10 billion.

#59 Maja Muškinja, logistics manager at Steel Impex (Serbia)

Steel Impex is at the forefront of Serbia’s recycling scene. Having started in 2008 on the remains of a former state-owned yard, the company today processes more than 100 000 tonnes of ferrous scrap per year. More than a decade on, says Muškinja, Steel Impex controls 40% of Serbia’s total steel scrap flows. The head office is in the north of the country near Novi Sad where it also operates a second facility and collection/transfer centre. Kraljevo is the main facility, handling the lion’s share (more than 60 000 tonnes in 2019) of the total ferrous scrap input.

Like so many scrap businesses, Steel Impex was affected by the pandemic. While doing their best to get the company through the crisis, Muškinja and her team also did as much they could to help those in need. Steel Impex donated EUR 17 000 to Unicef as part of a Serbian private sector initiative to buy protection equipment in the fight against Covid.

#18 Ingrid Niessing, ceo of ARN (The Netherlands)

Car recycling organisation ARN recycles almost 98.5% (by weight) of end-of-life vehicles – the bulk of the 210 000 vehicles that are taken off Dutch roads annually. Ingrid Niessing heads this leading organisation. She explains that ARN’s recycling rate is high because the post-shredder plant it operates at Tiel processes 16% of automotive shredder residue. It handles over 800 000 kilos of shredder waste a week, almost 41 000 tonnes per annum. The residues are split into 20 raw materials that can be used for new products.

#93 Prof Rebecca Earley (UK)

Fast fashion is the enemy of sustainable design, according to Earley. The London-based designer has close ties with fashion brands wanting to do a better job and has helped establish the H&M Conscious Foundation in 2015, which rewards innovators pursuing durable fashion and end-of-life solutions. She remains a judge and moderator for the event. Earley also created World Circular Textiles Day 2050 in partnership with UK business Worn Again Technologies, hoping to inspire brands and recyclers alike to commit to sustainable textiles.

#77 Nzambi Matee, founder of Gjenge Makers (Kenya)

Materials engineer Nzambi Matee’s company recycles plastic scrap and sand into low-cost construction materials. She was one of the winners of the Young Champions of the Earth prize, which is part of the United Nations Environment Programme to engage young people in tackling the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. Gjenge Makers creates bricks and tiles in various colours (currently red, blue, brown and green) and manhole covers. Mattee says her bricks hold up to five times the weight of comparable concrete blocks.

#52 Miranda Wang, co-founder of Novoloop (USA)

Wang started Novoloop straight out of college together with her best friend Jeanny Yao. The young women felt compelled to find a method to treat plastic scrap more efficiently after learning that most material in the US was either incinerated or landfilled. Their ‘breakthrough’ accelerated thermal oxidative decomposition technology harvests carbon-rich feedstock from polyethylene scrap to produce high performance materials that rival virgin plastic. ‘We want to help double the size of the circular economy,’ Wang tells us. ‘Our flagship product, XIRC, is designed to help planet-conscious brands accelerate the adoption of sustainable performance materials without compromising quality and durability.’ XIRC contains up to 50% post-consumer recycled content.

#100 Anna Bullus, founder of Gumdrop (The Netherlands)

Dutch entrepreneur Anna Bullus was concerned that 1 500 tonnes of chewing gum is dropped onto Dutch streets every year. She designed a dedicated waste bin called GumDrop for public hotspots in Amsterdam and London: each container holds about 500 pieces of gum. The pilot project grew into partnerships with big shoe brands including Adidas. The sole on its ‘sustainable sneaker’ now contains 20% recycled industrial chewing gum waste. ‘Chewing gum is made from synthetic rubber and by breaking it down we were able to make a new type of rubber,’ Bullus explains. Her company’s closed-loop process is relatively straightforward and yields a patented material called Gum-tec which can be used in a wide variety of products.

Check the entire TOP 100 list here >>

Would you like to share any interesting developments or article ideas with us? Don't hesitate to contact us.

You might find this interesting too

Ferry operator denies illegal ship-breaking claims
Benchmark circular progress, companies urged

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe now and get a full year for just €169 (normal rate is €225) Subscribe