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Robin Wiener: ‘Lucky to have ended up in scrap!’

‘One of the truths within the recycling industry is that recyclers are continuously innovating,’ says Robin Wiener, president of the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). And yet, she says one of the biggest challenges facing recyclers in the US – and globally – is a fundamental lack of understanding.

‘We made progress during these last two years, as recycling was recognised federally as “essential”, thus allowing recyclers to continue to operate during the initial stages of the pandemic,’ Wiener observes. ‘However, that did not translate, as we had hoped it would, into a better understanding of recycling itself or the industry. As a result the sector continues to see ‘misguided’ legislation and regulation on both state and federal level in the US, as well as on the international level through the Basel Convention and other intergovernmental treaties and agreements.

‘It is for this reason that I always look forward to attending ISRI’s annual Convention so that I can walk through the trade show floor and see the latest in new technologies, processes and equipment for the industry,’ Wiener notes with optimism. The ISRI Convention features the largest exhibit floor of any recycling event during the year, with more than 250 exhibitors over almost 350 000 ft2 of space. ‘I hope your readers will join me for ISRI2022, being held March 21st through 24th in Las Vegas so they can see for themselves what the next generation in recycling technologies and solutions looks like!’

Looking back on her early days at ISRI, her role in the recycling sector was the result of what she calls ‘pure luck’. Wiener recalls: ‘I had just started law school at night and was I was looking for a job during the day that would use my environmental policy expertise and engineering background.  ISRI was looking for a compliance coordinator and it turned out to be a good match.’

She adds: ‘I had every intention of leaving four years later, when I graduated from law school, but found I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I literally could not sign the papers given to me by the law firm that had offered me a job. Recycling had “gotten in my blood,” as they say, and I never looked back.’ 

When asked which women in the industry she looks up to, Wiener has quite a list. An important name to her is Karen Strelitz. ‘Karen is the co-founder and owner of California Metal-X, a Los Angeles-based copper and bronze ingot manufacturer. She has been someone who I feel very lucky to have gotten to know over the years and who I have leaned on from time to time,’ Wiener says. She compliments her on raising three beautiful daughters while simultaneously building a successful business ‘from scratch’ during a time when women were few and far between in the industry.

Another household name and ‘strong woman’ in scrap is Elisabeth Christ, who runs the communications department for the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR). And Wiener adds: ‘There are also many young, smart and dynamic women working their way up the leadership ranks in the industry today, each of whom I admire and enjoy getting to know, including Brandi Harleaux (ceo, South Post Oak Recycling Center) and Nidhi Turakhia (executive vice president, Allied Alloys). They are our future, which, if they are any indication, looks very bright!’

Wiener says she celebrated many many highlights in the past year. Together with her team, ISRI completed an award winning digital transformation, successfully obtained demurrage billing relief for members with the railroads, and established the foundation for an internship and apprenticeship programme targeting students from historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and trade schools in order to widen the pipeline for workers in the recycling industry.

‘I truly believe that I am one of the luckiest people in the world to be working with a team of professionals that work their hearts out every day,’ Wiener declares. ‘And they did that throughout the year, making sure that our members – and our industry – were protected and had the tools and resources needed to survive one of the most challenging times we had ever faced.’ 

She underlines: ‘I could not be more proud of my team and what they accomplished over the last two years, while working in bedrooms, home offices, kitchens and transformed closets, while also balancing uncertainty, anxiety, children, pets, partners, spouses, and sometimes COVID itself. And I want you to know that you all motivate us through your support, sharing, openness to new ideas and dedication to doing the right thing.’

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