Some publicly traded companies in the metals and recycling sectors have embraced workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives, noting the benefits to decision-making as one possible outcome as well as improved financial performance. Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc. and Sims are among them.
Australia-based Sims Ltd., in a June blog post, writes that it is working to increase the number of women it employs from 21 percent to 25 percent. “A diverse team improves the quality of decision-making,” the company writes in part, adding that it also benefits customer insight and innovation.
Sims also points to the higher profitability that companies with ethnically and gender-diverse workforces have, and research from McKinsey bares this out.
The London-based consultancy found that diverse boards perform better than those that feature less diversity among their members. In a 2019 analysis, McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile. This represents an increase from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014.
McKinsey also found that companies with less diversity were “penalized,” according to the consultancy. Those companies ranking in the fourth quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 19 percent more likely than companies in the other three quartiles to underperform on profitability—up from 15 percent in 2017 and 9 percent in 2015. Companies that ranked in the fourth quartile for gender and ethnic diversity were 27 percent more likely to underperform on profitability than all other companies in McKinsey’s dataset in 2019.
A business imperative
“At Schnitzer Steel, diversity, equity and inclusion are strategic business imperatives that are integral to all aspects of our business, including our engagement with customers, suppliers and the communities where we operate,” says Stef Murray, chief diversity and inclusion officer and vice president of human resources. She works out of Atlanta for Schnitzer, which is headquartered in Portland, Oregon.
“The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion is clear,” she says. “Companies that prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion enjoy higher profitability, greater innovation, increased sales and better retention.”
Additionally, Schnitzer recognizes that prioritizing DE&I will help the company better reflect the demographics of the communities where it operates, Murray says.
To develop the program, Murray says she engaged with experts across multiple industries and disciplines before preparing a formal program proposal to the senior leadership team. “We also hired an external consultant to conduct a workforce analysis to gain insight into our current standing, including organizational expectations around the impact of a formalized DEI program.”
Murray says Schnitzer’s DE&I strategy harmonizes with its broader talent management strategy, allowing it to attract, develop and retain the best talent.
Creating an inclusive environment
Schnitzer’s inclusivity strategy starts with an understanding of its workforce and an effort to accommodate employees’ varying needs, she says. This led the company to launch Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs, which are “voluntary, employee-led groups designed to celebrate diversity and foster an inclusive workplace aligned with Schnitzer’s mission, core values and goals,” Murray says.
“The first group to launch was a veteran’s ERG, a group that supports our effort to create a rewarding place to work for veterans, who make up roughly 6 percent of our workforce,” she says.
Murray says that during Pride Month in 2019, Schnitzer launched its Pride (LGBTQ+, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other sexual identities) ERG. “Since inception, the group has organized virtual meetings, social events and started a confidential hotline for employees who may have questions about the LGBTQ+ community at Schnitzer, need workplace support or would like to get involved with ERG activities,” she adds.
In 2020 and 2021, the company also launched ERGs for Black, Hispanic and women employees as well as BUILD (Building Up Individuals’ Lives Daily), which Murray says is a group dedicated to volunteerism and community engagement.
Implicit or unconscious bias describes attitudes or associated stereotypes a person might have with another person or group of people without conscious knowledge. It can take the form of racism, ageism or sexism and can affect the hiring and promotion process.
Murray says process-oriented strategies can help companies address implicit bias in talent management. “For example, at Schnitzer we require all interview panels for leadership positions to have at least one female employee, and all candidate slates to include at least one female,” she says. “Other strategies require internal training and focus more on behavior change, which can be harder to measure and manage.”
Murray continues, “At the end of the day, addressing implicit bias needs to focus on creating talent management environments that are more inclusive for women, people of different ethnicities, people of color, people from the LGBTQ+ community and all other backgrounds.”
Rather than trying to imitate leading DE&I programs, she suggests meeting the culture where it is. “Keep in mind that DEI is a journey, not a destination. The field is forever changing and evolving along with society, and change management strategies are required to sustain DE&I programs within an organization.
“It’s also critically important to conduct a workforce analysis to assess the company’s current performance and future opportunities,” Murray adds. “This analysis will help guide the goal setting process, including targets and changes to existing practices.
“Finally, I would suggest that companies secure commitment from the executive leadership team, communicating at this level early and often,” she says. “Without proper attention and buy-in, DEI programs may not gain the traction needed to achieve and maintain success.”
For small companies overwhelmed at the thought of making DE&I a more prominent part of their human resources strategy, Murray offers some advice. “Be patient and strategic. Develop a plan and break it down into manageable tasks. Start with a DEI Steering Committee to involve of a cross section of the organization. Make the business case for DEI and leverage existing research around DEI programs and their positive impact on organizational performance. Remember that in today’s market, companies with robust DEI programs have a clear competitive advantage in the hiring process.”
The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are interviews with women and minorities in the recycling industry. These individuals share their experiences and thoughts on how far the industry has come with diversity, equity and inclusion.
Making mental health essential
Features - Safety Focus
With increased challenges and stress related to the pandemic, it is important to include mental health in safety programs.
In the past 18 months, workers around the globe have faced immense challenges and pressures arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn and uncertainty about the future. Mental health is not a new challenge in the workplace, but it certainly has been brought to the forefront by the pandemic and can present safety, efficiency and team morale challenges.
For frontline and essential workers, which include personnel in the solid waste and recycling industry, this issue is even more urgent since going to work has presented additional challenges and risks. Even during shelter-in-place orders, industry workers were still going to work throughout 2020 and beyond, unsure about the risk of exposure to themselves and their families. They were in close contact with waste materials and recyclables as well as with members of the public and co-workers. These workers also might have had to work longer hours to cover shifts for those who were out sick or quarantining.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, only 11 percent of U.S. adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression in 2019. Similar data the CDC gathered between April 2020 and February 2021 found that statistic jumped to 38.1 percent.
In an industry that focuses on physical and mental strength, people can be hesitant to discuss mental health issues at the risk of seeming “weak” or “incapable.” Historically, physical injuries or illnesses have been given priority over mental health issues. Sick days are common at many organizations, but few offer mental health days. Mental health is sometimes less visible than physical injury or illness, but it can have just as much of an impact, especially in terms of safety and distraction.
Undiagnosed and/or untreated mental health issues can compound into issues with substance abuse, domestic abuse or risk of harm to oneself or others. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, more than 70 percent of individuals abusing illicit drugs and alcohol in the U.S. are employed.
Substance abuse can lead to high absenteeism, lower job productivity and performance and greater health care expenses for injuries and illnesses. Safety risks related to substance abuse also can increase workers’ compensation and disability claims.
Mental health issues that go unchecked can lead to serious safety risks. Think about the focus required to operate a collection vehicle or another piece of heavy equipment. There are numerous controls, as well as blind spots and obstacles to avoid. For heavy equipment operators, often people, vehicles and other equipment are in proximity. Being distracted by stress in their personal lives or being under the influence could severely affect a worker’s ability to do his or her job safely.
Different types of stress
Stress, anxiety, trauma, depression and emotional upheaval in employees’ personal lives can affect their decision-making, distraction level and, ultimately, their safety. A divorce, the death of a loved one, illness or a financial crisis can follow employees to work and seriously affect their concentration. But not all stress is negative.
There are different types of stress, says Karen Johnson, a principal at Washington-based Trauma-Informed Lens Consulting. Positive stress is the mild stress that comes from everyday life and work. Short-lived stress responses can be helpful for healthy development by challenging the brain and helping workers push past their comfort zone. The key is that it’s “short-lived.”
This is not chronic, ongoing stress but the normal, everyday stress of waking up, going to work, working and managing life.
The next level of stress is tolerable stress. It is more severe than positive stress but is still limited in duration. This is the stress that happens when faced with a deadline, a new challenge at work or a temporary schedule shift. It doesn’t last forever, which means there is a chance for recovery.
Toxic stress is the final level and is defined as the extreme, frequent or extended activation of the body’s stress response without a break or support from others. For some people, the past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic is an example of toxic stress, where the ongoing uncertainty and risk has not been alleviated.
Obviously, the best scenario would be to minimize time in the more intense levels of stress, but real life doesn’t always allow for that. The key is to find ways of regulating stress response, even when dealing with levels of tolerable or toxic stress.
It starts at the top
Prioritizing mental health must start at the top of the organization and be integrated into the overall culture. The focus on toughness over vulnerability is a mindset that takes time to shift. Managers and employees need to understand that mental health issues can affect anybody, regardless of how strong and tough a person might seem. Managers must work to create a positive culture that prioritizes physical, emotional and psychological safety for all.
Management should model vulnerability and transparency to employees, so workers know that mental health discussions are not taboo topics. Conversations about mental health and addiction are never easy to have, but the more those topics are interwoven into a company’s safety and employee training programs, the less awkward they become.
Regulation strategies are tools that allow people to manage their stress response. Bruce D. Perry, author of the book What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, says regulation strategies give people the ability to put time and thought between feelings and actions.
Many different types of regulation strategies are available, including things like open-door policies and communication with management, stretching, breathing or just simply taking a mental break. Every person has a unique response to stress and, thus, might need to create a unique set of regulation strategies.
Just as normalizing conversations about mental health is important, managers also should normalize stress-coping strategies to remain calm when under pressure and show empathy for employees or other managers who are struggling with mental health, anger or other emotional issues.
Managers can provide employees with a “toolkit” of strategies that employees can mix and match. Starting the day with a safety tailgate meeting and a few moments of breathwork can help introduce new strategies in a natural way. Employees might need to be reminded to revisit their regulation strategies throughout the day when facing stressful situations.
Managers also can work to build a network of mental health support within the organization and have employees check in on each other. Providing opportunities for employees to have a “time out” or a reset, perhaps during break or lunchtime, can help remind employees to prioritize their mental health.
38.1 percentage of U.S. adults who experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression between April 2020 and February 2021 based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data
During regular safety training or daily tailgate meetings, topics related to mental health and regulation strategies can be integrated into other topics. A manager also could invite guest speakers—ideally, people from the community who are experienced with treating or diagnosing mental health issues—to offer their perspectives.
When uncertainty is present—whether around a global pandemic or organizational changes—it is imperative that managers remain open and honest to be a trusted source for employees.
Policies and practices
Once managers have done the work to normalize mental health, the next step is integrating mental health strategies and conversations into the overall organization. Managers should understand the difference between chronic, serious depression or other mental health issues and the day-to-day management of stress that can help alleviate short-term anxiety.
When creating policies and practices around mental health, managers should ensure they are flexible and can adapt to new challenges.
If employees have access to mental health services through the organization’s health insurance or employee assistance programs, managers should ensure employees are aware of the available options. If the organization currently does not offer mental health services, managers might want to consider adding them, or at the very least, having a list of local resources to provide to employees who need mental health support. By promoting early access to mental health services and care, managers can help prevent more extensive issues down the road.
Policies always should be created in conjunction with the human resources department and/or union organizations. Management also should be aware of medical confidentiality and laws related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. While providing support and open communication is within managers’ responsibilities, managers should not try to diagnose or treat employees and always should defer to mental health professionals.
If managers find that emotional conditions or stress are affecting an employee’s work performance, he or she might need to be switched to a less-demanding job for a while. The employee might need to seek help from a counselor, clergyperson, trained medical health professional or local support group.
When making an emergency response plan, management should build in mental health considerations. If employees suffer a loss of a family member or lose a home in a natural disaster, those situations will deeply affect work performance. By anticipating those challenges and providing cross-training, managers can help provide flexibility for employees who can’t come to work or need to work in a less stressful role.
Mental health must be an integral part of every organization’s culture and health and safety programs. It is a difficult and sensitive topic, but it’s one that is worthwhile to discuss. Not only will it help employees work safely, but it also quite literally can help prevent serious issues, such as addiction, domestic abuse and fatalities, whether from suicide or accidents.
The Blue Ridge Services team provides process improvement and safety services to the solid waste industry. Visit www.blueridgeservices.com to learn more.
A tale of two markets
Features - Aluminum Commodity Focus
Compared with last year at this time, aluminum scrap sellers have the advantage over mill buyers.
Before the pandemic, the United States had an abundance of aluminum scrap, though demand was less than robust. In the summer of 2019, one source described demand for virtually all grades of aluminum scrap as “softer than [at] any other time I can remember.”
As a result, buyers for consuming mills had the upper hand, and scrap processors’ margins were slim.
However, as of last summer, even with the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, demand from billet makers and primary mills that make can sheet had strengthened. That led to some tightness for extrusion grades and used beverage cans (UBCs).
By the end of 2020, scrap processors were using the term “seller’s market” for the first time in a long time to describe the aluminum scrap market. Generation remained muted, though demand had increased.
“There is a larger than normal mix of sellers who decided to weigh heavier on the spot market versus contract business for 2021,” Chad Kripke of the scrap brokerage firm Kripke Enterprises Inc. (KEI), Toledo, Ohio, said at that time. “Scrap processors are feeling confident that 2021 will be the year to regain some leverage. With spreads remaining tight, it is still a seller’s market for the foreseeable future,” he added.
That situation largely has continued throughout this year, though labor issues, escalating transportation costs and other transportation-related challenges have complicated the situation for scrap processors.
Despite these challenges, a trader for a scrap processing company with operations in the Midwest and Southeast expects the seller’s market to continue. As the 2022 contract season approaches, he says, “it will be in the suppliers’ favor for the first time in a while.”
The supply situation
Kripke, who is president of KEI, says that as of early August, aluminum scrap was flowing. “With the volatility in the market, I think it draws out more volume on certain days,” he says. “The market is strong, and it is driving a lot of volume.”
Andy McKee, president of Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Schupan & Sons’ trading division, says, “Generation levels are strong in pretty much every sector of the aluminum scrap sector.”
He adds that while the semiconductor shortage is affecting aluminum markets, the automotive industry still is generating “a lot” of scrap.
UBCs also are “very strong,” McKee says, noting what he describes as “the huge consumption shifts” arising from the pandemic. McKee says more at-home consumption of beer and other beverages that are packaged in cans is a factor. A second factor is the growing types of beverages—hard seltzers, flavored waters, energy drinks and wine, for example—that are packaged in cans that range from 8 ounces to the traditional 12 ounces all the way up to 20 ounces in size, he says.
Industrial scrap generation also has increased more broadly. RV manufacturing, in particular, “is going like gangbusters,” McKee says. “I think prepandemic we were already seeing growth in some of those markets. As baby boomers are hitting retirement age, they are looking to expand their geographic footprint beyond where they live traditionally,” he says. “That was sped up by the pandemic.”
Some people are even purchasing RVs to use as mobile offices, he says.
Sebastien Perron, vice president of Labrador Recycling Inc., a metal trading company based in Springfield, Massachusetts, says generation from the aerospace sector has picked up as more people have begun to travel since the COVID-19 vaccines have been available. He says this has offset the slowdown in generation from the automotive sector related to the semiconductor chip shortage.
“It’s unbelievable the chip shortage hasn’t been remedied by now,” Kripke says, expressing the exasperation undoubtedly felt by many people from car dealers and buyers to secondary aluminum mills.
He says the situation has negatively affected secondary aluminum smelting activity, leaving these consumers with less of an appetite for scrap, which has softened pricing for the grades these smelters typically purchase.
The trader for the scrap processing company with locations in the Midwest and Southeast also mentions the ongoing chip shortage and its effect on domestic secondary aluminum smelters. “On the secondary side, demand has been pretty bad,” he says. This has allowed overseas buyers to be competitive on these scrap grades.
The trader says he thinks the transition to electric vehicles, which is happening more rapidly than previously expected, will further affect scrap demand from secondary aluminum smelters and the mix of scrap that is sought.
Kripke notes that some aluminum scrap grades, such as painted siding, mixed low-copper clips and radiators, are purchased by secondary smelters as well as by continuous casting mills. “Sometimes they compete for units, and a strong appetite from the continuous cast sheet mills sometimes drives up secondary prices,” he says. “And, on the flip side, if there’s a diminished appetite for secondary scrap in the U.S., it will tend to drive down the value of some of the items that some of the continuous cast sheet mills will accept because they know it’s a buying opportunity.”
Demand from aluminum sheet mills for 6000-series scrap is strong. The trader for the scrap processing company with locations in the Midwest and Southeast says mills are buying “everything they can get their hands on.”
The trader notes that prompt deliveries are readily available with sheet mills. Spreads also are good.
McKee says he finds delivery dates “all over the board” as of early August. Prompt deliveries are available with billet mills, while consumers that produce common alloy sheet are roughly a month out. Can sheet plants were looking for mid- to late August deliveries.
“Billet and extrusion grades have really stayed tight all year,” McKee says. “There is so much more capacity in the U.S. to consume these grades than there was a few years ago. We handle a lot of those grades and have been able to find good opportunities as buyers of those grades have struggled to meet all their needs,” he adds.
“With extrusion grades and the Midwest premium being so high, there is an opportunity to buy scrap into this country,” the trader says.
“The Midwest premium at this level makes it hard to export prime grades like 5XXX and 6XXX,” Perron says, “but the freight challenges make it hard to import them as well.”
He adds that buyers who are looking to import aluminum scrap from the United States have been competitive on secondary grades as well as on shredded aluminum grades, such as twitch and zorba, and on tense, or mixed aluminum castings.
“India, Korea, China and Malaysia are leading that demand,” Perron says. However, he adds that buyers in Malaysia are struggling to find enough workers to keep material moving as COVID-19 cases rise in the country.
In the longer term
Demand for aluminum scrap and primary aluminum could be poised to increase in the longer term if the infrastructure bill that is before the House of Representatives is passed. The Senate passed the bill in early August.
The Aluminum Association, based in Arlington, Virginia, says the bipartisan framework the legislation is based on included many of its infrastructure priorities, such as the market-based transition to an electric vehicle fleet by 2040, bridge rehabilitation, electric grid modernization, public transportation and recycling infrastructure.
The association says, “Aluminum chassis, shock towers, motor and battery housings and internal panels allow electric vehicles to travel further, safer. Aluminum also is a key component of the charging networks that allow these vehicles to refuel.”
When it comes to modernizing the electric grid, the Aluminum Association says, “With a better conductivity-to-weight ratio than copper and significant economic benefits, aluminum has for decades been the leading material used in wiring power grids. Aluminum is also vital for solar power with more than 85 percent of solar photovoltaic components made from aluminum.”
Beyond the infrastructure bill in the U.S., the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in an attempt to reduce global warming also should benefit aluminum in the long term.
“Another commodities supercycle is on the horizon, but it will be different from any that have come before,” Wood Mackenzie, the London-based consultancy, writes in a press release dated July 15. “Fossil fuels won’t be the vanguard, and the winners will be the industrial metals needed to electrify society—cobalt, lithium, copper, nickel and aluminum,” Wood Mackenzie adds.
Under the company’s scenario that limits the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius, 360 million metric tons of aluminum will be needed over the next 20 years. Solar energy generation and storage will account for some of that demand.
Kamil Wlazly, senior analyst, aluminum markets, with Wood Mackenzie, in an Aug. 9 opinion piece, writes that the share of aluminum used in solar panels could increase from the current 3 percent to 12.6 percent in 2040, or 10 million metric tons, according to the firm’s scenario that keeps global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Even Wood Mackenzie’s base case scenario has the solar energy sector consuming 4.6 million metric tons of the metal by 2040.
Wood Mackenzie expects aluminum demand to total 76 million metric tons in 2025, creating a supply deficit of about 2 million metric tons.
If this demand materializes and aluminum faces a supply deficit as predicted, scrap dealers could find themselves enjoying the perks of a seller’s market in the future.
The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at email@example.com.
A world of recycling
Features - Cover Profile
Eric Ingebretsen and TES take a global approach to addressing the electronic scrap recycling and ITAD needs of an equally global customer base.
Singapore is a tiny island nation of 5.3 million people that is known for punching above its weight class as a global shipping, logistics and financial hub. Therefore, it might come as no surprise that perhaps the world’s single-largest electronic scrap recycling and information technology asset disposition (ITAD) firm used Singapore as a springboard for its worldwide ambitions.
TES (at one time known as TES-AMM, which stood for Total Environmental Solutions – Asset Material Management) started in 2005 as an e-scrap recycler based in Singapore, says Eric Ingebretsen, TES’ U.S.-based chief commercial officer.
The company’s 16-year story is a chronicle of growth by volume handled and geographically, as well as by the size of its customer base and depth of its service menu. “That growth was materially based on [Forbes] Global 2000 relationships and TES’ entrepreneurial approach to expanding to support them,” Ingebretsen says.
Always more to do
Obtaining a full grasp of TES’ operations can be difficult for reasons beyond that it now has 42 owned and operated processing facilities around the world. The company handles a wide variety of technology devices and pursues refurbishing, recycling and other processing methods based on client requirements, economic factors and sustainability-based outcomes.
TES CEO Gary Steele says, “In the early 2010s, TES recognized the opportunity to also service the refurbishing and reuse space within the same or similar client set and, thus, started offering ITAD services.”
Remarkably, after spending from 2005 to 2010 becoming “the dominant player” in the Asia-Pacific region in e-scrap recycling, TES accomplished the same thing in the global ITAD space in the following five or six years, Steele says.
The company’s successful strategy in Asia has been introduced to the rest of the world in part because of TES’ 2013 acquisition by Malaysia-based Navis Capital Partners. Ingebretsen describes Navis as “a large private equity firm with $6 billion in investments under management.”
In conjunction with Navis, “TES aligned on a global strategy [and] acquired a large ITAD player in Europe named Dataserv in 2016,” Steele says. Several other small acquisitions in Europe followed, he says, helping TES build to its current scale in Europe.
In North America, TES has pursued more of a greenfield strategy. Over a five-year period, the company has developed three ITAD and recycling locations with nearly 100 combined employees.
The decade and a half of rapid but targeted growth has led to more than 40 processing facilities on three continents and about 2,000 employees globally. In early 2021, Connecticut-based IT market analysis firm Gartner identified TES as the largest and one of just three companies in the world with the ability to deliver comprehensive ITAD services globally.
However, far more than just buildings are needed to provide global service, Steele says. “Our 2,000 employees worldwide deliver our services directly, which allows TES to offer a global service that really feels like a global service. What does this mean? It means a lot more than lower logistics costs. It means that we have local compliance experts in the region and in-country and a deep understanding of transboundary movement globally. It means that we can offer support in local time zones and languages (critical in global programs); consistency in service, pricing and values; billing in local currency and more.”
With global responsibility comes global risk. Therefore, Steele continues to help find growth avenues for TES while also helping the company manage a range of issues affecting electronic scrap recycling and ITAD service providers.
TES has built its business in part because its more than 40 globally situated processing facilities “give our customers a consistent experience no matter where their assets are,” Ingebretsen says.
The company’s global model also involves moving retired assets, components and secondary raw materials to the most suitable market, but the e-scrap aspect of the business is under increasing pressure, he adds.
“Transboundary movement of material is likely going to get more challenging; we’ve seen this changing in Asia over the last three to four years as things have tightened up significantly in China, Malaysia, Thailand and other countries,” Ingebretsen says.
The reasons for some of the restrictions make sense, he says, and TES has and will continue to create closed loops how and where it needs to do so. “We see this as a positive for those countries and the industry in general to help ensure e-scrap is going to receiving facilities that can appropriately process it.”
Ingebretsen adds, “TES was already well-positioned with a network of permits that allows us to compliantly move material into a variety of countries where we have facilities that can process this material.”
That circumstance could change in the U.S. “In the U.S., there is legislation being considered that would significantly restrict material flow outside the country,” he says. “There are potential positives and negatives that could come out of that, depending on the final language in any bill that passes.”
Provided such legislation and regulations are uniformly enforced, change doesn’t have to be bad for TES. “Transboundary movement of material has always been foundational to recycling, particularly in the U.S., and this legislation could introduce a step change to both the e-scrap recycling and ITAD industries,” Ingebretsen adds.
Understanding the regulatory minefield means “there is more of a need than ever for the services we provide,” he says. “While cost and value remain important, commercials take a back seat with our customers versus how we can raise the bar in data security and sustainability, which is great for the industry. Customers are educated on their requirements and needs, which elevates the strata of providers like TES who can meet them.”
While changes to laws and regulations provide reasons to keep Ingebretsen and other TES executives busy, the pursuit of new revenue streams provides others.
A charged-up future
Despite potential regulatory change, TES continues to invest in new opportunities. One of the most intriguing opportunities at the start of the 2020s involves optimal handling of end-of-life batteries.
Starting in 2019 with a facility in Grenoble, France, TES has invested in research, processing equipment and new plants with the goal of repurposing and recycling the growing stream of batteries found in excess and retired technology assets in addition to batteries from electric vehicles.
This spring, in its headquarters city of Singapore, TES officially opened its multimillion-dollar, highly automated facility to recycle lithium batteries.
The facility, known as TES B, has the capacity to recycle up to 14 metric tons, or the equivalent of 280,000 lithium-ion smartphone batteries, daily. TES B deploys a combination of mechanical equipment and hydrometallurgical processes to recover nickel, lithium and cobalt.
True to its global nature, this July, TES announced it had agreed to a deal to equip a 110,000-square-foot facility at the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands to recycle end-of-life batteries.
The facility “already has a basic waste license to receive, store and forward lithium batteries and to manage electric vehicle batteries and battery production scrap, as well as a license to shred alkaline batteries,” according to the company.
Batteries are not the sole focus of recent investments or expansion plans at TES. Ingebretsen points to an “innovative recycling process that transforms PCB (printed circuit board) manufacturing waste in China into a valuable polymer.”
The company has acquired the patent for a nanotechnology that “produces carbon nanotubes (CNT) from recycled plastics,” he says.
“CNT are cylindrical molecules that consist of rolled-up carbon atoms that develop ultra-high-strength, low-weight materials that possess highly conductive electrical and thermal properties,” Ingebretsen says. “This makes them highly attractive for numerous applications.
“In my opinion, the industry is at an inflection point—innovation in terms of process, tools and reporting have been relatively static for the last 10 to 15 years.” – Eric Ingebretsen, TES chief commercial officer
“We will start building a plant in Singapore in late 2021 to transform all types of used plastic, offering an innovative solution to the growing problem of waste plastics,” he continues.
The company’s investments are funding services that Ingebretsen says are designed to be comprehensive. “By using TES’ integrated services stack, organizations can remove complexity from their reverse supply chain and take advantage of the synergies that come with it.”
Continued growth will require innovation, Ingebretsen says, which is a quality that helps define his role with the company and the overall TES philosophy.
“In my opinion, the industry is at an inflection point—innovation in terms of process, tools and reporting have been relatively static for the last 10 to 15 years. Providers who will win in the long run will be the ones who have the appetite and means to invest in innovations like better material refinement, automation, sustainability programs and more.”
The author is the senior editor with the Recycling Today Media Group and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adapting to the new reality
Departments - Welcome
Material recovery facilities and community recycling programs have changed to reflect evolving consuming market demands and changing material streams.
If the last decade has taught us anything about the recycling industry in the United States, it’s that it’s resilient and adaptable.
From China’s Operation Green Fence in 2013 to its National Sword in 2017 to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, material recovery facility (MRF) operators and community recycling programs have adapted to reflect evolving consuming market demands at home and abroad, the changing material stream and operational changes related to social-distancing during the pandemic.
With the decline in secondary commodity values brought on by the glut of paper and plastic scrap in the U.S. after China started restricting or outright stopping imports of some grades of these materials, MRF operators began instituting processing fees. While markets for mixed paper, old corrugated containers and various postconsumer plastics are stronger today, one can argue that such fees remain necessary. Waste management isn’t free, so why should recycling be given the extensive infrastructure required to support it? America’s MRFs increasingly are sophisticated manufacturing facilities producing commodity-grade raw materials for consumption by companies in North America and beyond. But, unlike other manufacturers, these facilities have little control over their infeed materials.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that MRF operators who responded to our survey cited contamination as a primary concern, ranking second after rising insurance costs. Contamination also is a concern for government officials and haulers who responded to our survey, which was conducted in July by Readex Research of Stillwater, Minnesota.
This topic and others also were discussed during the roundtables that we held in preparation for this State of the Municipal Recycling Industry report. Recycling Today hosted three separate virtual roundtables: one with MRF operators, one with government recycling officials and one with consumer packaged goods companies. (Some of the MRF operators who participated in the roundtable and some of the government participants also offer hauling services.) Excerpts from those discussions, as well as results from the survey Readex sent out on our behalf to MRF operators, government officials and haulers, are included in the pages that follow.
We couldn’t have done this research without the help of our sponsors, CP Manufacturing of San Diego and Shred-Tech of Cambridge, Ontario. We want to thank them for helping to provide the funding to make this research possible.
Our gratitude also goes out the industry representatives who took the time to participate in our roundtables. You can find out more about them on the subsequent pages.
Finally, we’d also like to thank those of you who took the time to respond to what I readily admit was a lengthy survey. Your insights and input are critical to everything we do, and we appreciate what you do every day. Recycling is essential, and so are you.