Positive Momentum

Features - Industry Report

New ISRI Chair John Sacco says the hard work of predecessors means his job will be to keep the momentum going.


john saccoLike his fellow Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) officers and his predecessors as board chair, John Sacco has a never-ending “to do” list in his role as a corporate manager.

But just like so many of those predecessors and fellow officers, he says he is thoroughly convinced that the additional work undertaken as an ISRI officer is worthwhile for him and that the work is important to the industry.

In an interview with Recycling Today Editor-in-Chief Brian Taylor, Sacco extends full credit to ISRI’s past and current directors and officers and to the ISRI staff for the healthy state of the trade association.

Sacco was interviewed in San Diego, where the hard work of ISRI staff and volunteers paid off in a 2010 Convention & Exposition that attracted more than 4,500 people and more than 250 exhibitors to a bustling show floor.

The convention brought together recyclers, scrap consumers and vendors from a wide variety of industry sectors who, in addition to conducting business, raised some $75,000 for a charitable cause. (See the sidebar, “Generous Donations”. )


Attendees of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) Convention & Exposition raised $75,000 for the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based organization, found at www.woundedwarriorproject.org on the Web, provides training and services for severely wounded veterans and soldiers.

ISRI Convention exhibitor CNA Metals Ltd., Stafford, Texas, offered to donate $5 for each attendee who allowed their badge to be scanned at its exhibit booth—a technique that raised $11,585.

At a prior convention, a fundraising effort in New Orleans raised $40,000 to help build teaching kitchens for local high schools to use in the training of hospitality workers.

According to Sacco, the work that goes into hosting the very visible annual convention is just one component of what ISRI does. Also of vital importance is ISRI’s role in increasing safety awareness and as the liaison to local, state and federal elected and appointed officials.

Sacco offered his views on ISRI’s strengths as an organization and how being involved with ISRI can benefit the company owners and managers who commit to doing so.

Recycling Today (RT): Has it been gratifying to see the growth in the annual convention this decade, and how can ISRI sustain that momentum?

John Sacco (JS): It is absolutely gratifying. There are so many people who put so much time and effort into it—I take absolutely no credit. The growth comes from an unbelievable drive from past officers and the staff and the board of directors, combined with the quality of the speakers we have.

It’s not easy getting the quality of program that we have developed, capped off by recent keynote speakers such as Condoleeza Rice and Bill Clinton. Every year we’re challenged to improve and grow. The growth, though, can come from the electronics, paper, tire and plastic recycling sectors. These are growing segments that still contain people not yet involved with ISRI—I want them in there.

A real positive about this show: As big as it is, it’s still small in a way because there is a huge family feel to this show.

RT: To what extent do you believe legislators and the public at large understand or appreciate industrial-scale recycling?

JS: Most really don’t—not enough of them truly understand it. Everybody loves the word recycling, but the essence of recycling comes from the backbone of America’s industrial output. Without domestic consumption and demand, recycling is going to die, because there is no incentive to do it. I don’t think we’ve educated our officials enough. Recycling and industry go hand in hand.

The essence of recycling isn’t that blue bin—it’s incredibly complicated. And when you’re on the inside looking at it, you get a sense of how big it is: the jobs it creates, the industry innovation that comes with it. It really is a big deal.

RT: Are there plans underway to improve safety program participation among member companies?

JS: There is a cliché that really applies to this—safety is ongoing. When you invest in safety, you’re not buying inventory and you’re not seeing it as a revenue area. But you’re really safeguarding your assets. You are protecting your people and your company from the liability in the crazy world of litigation out there. We’ve got to keep pushing the message and pushing the message and pushing the message. We’ve got to keep trying and we’re going to keep promoting our safety programs. When you talk to John Gilstrap or Joe Bateman (ISRI’s safety staff), they’re passionate and they are willing to help anyone who asks. They get frustrated because people don’t always realize they are there to help.

RT: How can the scrap recycling industry tie into wider, global trends focusing on sustainability and energy innovation—or should it try to tie in to those things?


For its 2011 Convention & Exposition, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) members and vendors will convene in California for the second consecutive year.

After San Diego served as the convention’s host in 2010, Los Angeles gets its turn April 5-9, 2011.

The 720,000-square-foot Los Angeles Convention Center, which bills itself as “one of the most efficiently designed and technologically advanced convention and exhibition facilities in the world,” will serve as the home of the 2011 convention.

In September of 2008, the facility was awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) certification from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).

On its Web site, the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) says it undertakes “constant efforts to progressively explore, test and implement new and innovative Earth-friendly initiatives throughout the 54-acre facility.”

At each event it hosts, the LACC says it “provides our clients and their attendees ample opportunities for recycling through roll-away bins or permanent recycling containers s

JS: My dad had an old saying: Shoemakers stick to making shoes. However, we can’t put blinders on; the world is too big, but yet it’s way too small. We will keep that core focus on recycling, but the staff is attuned to the wider issues. As our members provide feedback and participate by going to other countries and other conventions, we have to be there in that world. We can’t get so broad that we lose site of the focus on recycling, but we have to be part of the conversation regarding globalization and emerging markets.

RT: What have you found to be the most satisfying or challenging aspects to being a national officer with ISRI?

JS: I’ve had the greatest time meeting people and forming lasting friendships. Receiving guidance from people like Marvin Siegel and George Adams has been tremendous.

The convention provides a real boost as well. Where else in the world could I go and have conversations with Condoleeza Rice or Bill Clinton or General Tommy Franks?

Ultimately, though, the most satisfying thing is the interaction and the real true friendships I have gained in this industry. It’s remarkable the bond you can get with your fellow officers. I believe my fellow officers and I are a tight-knit group.

What’s really becoming interesting for me is seeing the broader aspect outside of metals—the electronics and the plastic scrap sector that’s getting ready to explode into a whole new realm.

RT: You personally suffered a loss in 2009, and the industry did as well, when your father Ben Sacco passed away. What advice from your father are you reminded of most often?

JS: There is not just one. Every day at my company, my brother Philip and I and the employees will launch into “what would Dad say?” He had a couple of sayings in Italian that don’t necessarily translate smoothly into English. One was that if you do something good you can forget about it, but do something bad and you’re going to have to look over your shoulder.

Dad is with us every day; he’s there every day because he embodied what was right and what we had to do that was right. Dad’s philosophy is what drives us, not just my brother and myself, but all the employees and even people at this convention who come up to me and say they miss my father. He talked to CEOs and the torch man; it didn’t matter—he enjoyed that. Treating people right and with dignity, keeping your word—he had values that need to be carried on.