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‘We are more than just recycling’

John Sacco of California-based recycling firm Sierra is on a personal mission to change what he calls ‘the narrative of our industry’. With a professional camera crew, he is criss-crossing the US in search of great stories for his docuseries ‘Repurposed’.   

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What is ‘Repurposed’?

‘“Repurposed” is a docuseries showcasing how recycled materials get made into products that we use in our everyday lives. Season One of the series is strictly focused on the production of new steel and paper.’

What makes a busy recycler and machinery manufacturer decide to launch a major video documentary project?

‘It’s simple. We all sit around and ask when is somebody finally going to do something about changing the narrative in our industry. Then you realise that you are that somebody. I’m blessed to have a very creative editor in Darren Doane along with the ability to fund this project financially. Plus, it’s also really fun to make.’

‘What are we going to see?

‘The number of episodes isn’t quite determined but we are considering anywhere from four to six in our first season. We visit a steel mill and talk about how new steel is made from recycled iron and how the implementation of safety procedures is critical for the people who operate a steel mill. We’ll also be visiting a paper mill that makes paper from virgin wood and from recycled paper.

This particular mill owns its own forests and harvests wood to be sent to lumber mills – the residual from the lumber mills is what virgin paper is made from. You’ll also be seeing us interview George Adams from SA Recycling, Jay Robinovitz from Alter Trading and loads of other guests on how recycling – and the products made from recycled materials – are used in our everyday lives.’

Tell us a bit about what your approach. Is there a script?

‘No script. We document the journey. We document where we go and the people we talk to, and then we create the docuseries from what’s taken from that. We do brainstorm some ideas but we never have written scripts. Our approach is that we see things through the lens of a camera for the first time, so you never know what you’re going to hear or see. The raw reactions and discussions that come from that always turn out way better than something that’s scripted out.’

What have you learned from making this docuseries, from the people you met and interviewed?

‘From the paper mill we visited, I learned that paper mills have their own forests and that they grow trees that are later used to make new paper. Much like wheat, corn and other crops that we harvest annually, trees are harvested every 40-50 years. I learned how they keep sunlight off the forest floor and how to keep the forest soil healthy in order to prevent wildfire. I learned that in making paper, there’s a de-inking process – the Washington cleansing – in which the water is scientifically treated to clean in a way that is environmentally friendly.

The water that these paper mills are putting back into the environment is cleaner than the water they used when they took it out. At the steel mill we visited for the series, I learned that their approach is strictly using 100% recycled iron in a way that safety is a primary concern during the steelmaking process. They’re also working with certain customers and stocking raw materials for those customers to have the materials that they need at a moment’s notice. And they use 100% renewable energy to make steel from wind.’

An enthusiastic BIR audience in Dubai watched the trailer for ‘Repurposed.’ Very impressive indeed, Hollywood style. My first thought was that this was something BIR/ISRI could have initiated as an industry body – do you agree?

‘I don’t believe that BIR and ISRI, as trade associations, can share the same creative vision that I share with Darren Doane in creating our content. We have a completely different and unconventional style of making content in the way we collaborate with each other and with what we see.

Neither BIR nor ISRI would have that ability because they would have to give it to a production company to see it from start to finish. I don’t think they could do what we’re going to do. However, hopefully “Repurposed” will be an inspiration to helping both organisations make something in their own way for the industry as a whole.’

When and on which channels will the series be broadcast?

‘At this point, we are negotiating with several channels. We know it will definitely be on our YouTube channel. We feel there will be many platforms to broadcast this docuseries. We’re looking to release it in December or January.’

“Repurposed” is about the US/North America? Will there be another series on Europe or Asia?

‘It all depends on whether “Repurposed” gets picked up and is seen as something that these distribution channels would love to have going forward. This is not a cheap project. It’s going to take global support and financial input from those who want to see it succeed. But, yes, Europe and Asia are both on the table for filming.’

John Sacco (second left) and his crew filming at steel maker SSAB.

You enjoy making these docuseries as well as making podcasts. If you had to choose between recycling or making videos/podcasts about recycling, what would it be?

‘After all these years, truth be told, I’d rather make videos and podcasts about recycling than be in the industry only as a processor. This brings me great joy and pleasure in doing but you cannot have one without the other.’

Do we also get to see a “Repurposed” bloopers episode?

‘The filming process has been a lot of fun, so we will definitely be releasing behind-the-scenes and bloopers. But right now our focus is set on getting the series finished and then we will get to release the blooper footage.’

When will you be able to say this project has succeeded?

‘It is my hope that we can change the narrative that the recycled materials industry is deemed more than just essential. It’s a requirement for the health of our environment and humanity. Without recycled metals, we can’t have hospitals, schools, highways, bridges, or even food. All the things that sustain our lives have recycled content in it.

Without this industry, we would use up all our natural resources and pollute the planet to a much greater level. So, “Repurposed” is a series that is made with hope to shed light on the people out there who don’t understand that we are not junk, we are not waste – and we are more than just recycling.’

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