Pile of Scrap Ep. 6: The Recyclers’ Advocate – Brian Shine, ISRI
Throughout generations of his family being involved in the industry, current ISRI Chairman Brian Shine, knew scrap was in his blood from the very beginning. From incorporating the values that he had learned from his family business in addition to the experience he’d acquired through his involvement in the industry, he leads the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) to its continued success. Brian joins John Sacco to discuss the strategy behind the magic that is ISRI and how important the organization has been for the entire scrap recycling community as a whole.
Watch this episode of Pile of Scrap here.
ISRI Chairman Brian Shine with John Sacco
Intro: The following is an original audio series from Sierra International Machinery. Pile of Scrap with your host John Sacco.
John Sacco: Well, today we’re here for another episode of Pile of Scrap and I’m with Brian Shine of Manitoba and the current ISRI Chair. Welcome Brian.
Brian Shine: Thank you very much. Happy to be here today with you, Johnny.
John Sacco: Well, Brian. You and I share a couple things in common. You are a current Chair. I’m a former Chair. We’re both in YPO together.
Brian Shine: Yes.
John Sacco: So, I think that’s great. So, you know, we’re doing the podcast, Pile of Scrap. What it is, is we’re bringing forth information. And, this isn’t just about Sierra and the equipment we sell. It’s about this industry that people actually are listening to. And, I’m getting people texting me, emails, so, it’s really good. And, I think people need to hear from the Chairman of ISRI. Because, you know, how passionate both you and I are on our — on this trade association. ISRI is the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries for those who don’t know what it is. And, I just think it’s an important message.
Brian Shine: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to be here and I’ve got to say, I’m incredibly impressed with what you’re doing, John. I think it’s such — it’s delivering information to our industry and to our suppliers and our customers and our friends in the industry and I really applaud you for what you’re doing. So, thank you for the opportunity to be here.
John Sacco: Thank you. Well, hey. Listen. We go back. We’re friends. You know, for full-transfer to UNR friends. But, you know, I think you bring an important part to what’s happening in the industry today as the Chairman. So, first Brian, tell us a little bit about your background. Your family business, how many generations are you, you know, the whole thing. So, set it up and tell us a little bit about you.
Brian Shine: Happy to do so. Happy to tell that story. So, my great-grandfather immigrated to this country and suddenly…
John Sacco: From?
Brian Shine: Buffalo, New York. Somewhere in eastern Europe. We actually don’t know if it was Russia or Poland. The lines were moving at that time. And so, settled in Buffalo and I’m not sure exactly why, but — but picked Buffalo.
John Sacco: Either am I.
Brian Shine: And I’m happy he did now. But at the time, I don’t know. Anyway, Buffalo was a very industrial town at that point, in the early 1900s. In fact, it was the sixth largest city in the country at that point. We’ve since slipped down the rankings, but he unfortunately couldn’t speak English because he had just settled in this country, so he couldn’t get a job in a local factory. So the way many scrapper recyclers got started, he started with a push cart, walking the city streets of Buffalo. Had to feed his family. He collected anything anybody wanted to get rid of whether it’s paper, rags, little bit of metals. He would bring it back, sort it out, sell it and then start the process over. Eventually worked his way to a horse and buggy and my grandfather ended up going to University of Buffalo Law School and practiced law. He graduated 1932, so right at the Depression.
John Sacco: The height.
Brian Shine: The height of the Depression. And, he tried to practice for about seven years and loved law, but really couldn’t make a living at it. Nobody had any money to pay attorneys post the Depression. So, he ended up joining his dad in business and they built up a — a, actually, a rag recycling company. They were the largest rag recycler in all of New York state. And then as World War II ended, they invented synthetic rags: nylon, dacron, rayon. And it was like falling over a cliff. There was just no economic value in recycling of rags anymore. So, we switched gears to metals. And at that time, Buffalo had six steel mills and probably 35 steel scrap dealers. So, he intentionally decided to go non-ferrous and first, we started with aluminum. We had 18, 20 local industrial accounts that were supporting us. And — and then we switched over to copper. My dad joined in 1970. He came out of the Air Force. He was a C-130 Pilot and his original plan —
John Sacco: He served in ‘Nam?
Brian Shine: He served in ‘Nam. His original plan was to come back and get in commercial aviation, but that was everybody’s plan coming back. And, there was a recession in the early 70’s. And, he realized he would be a second in command, waiting for the guy to die or retire before he’d move on. So, he came down to the plant and, actually, there was some airplane scrap in our plant. We were servicing a — a Curtiss-Wright account at the time and he knew all the parts and pieces and that was his hook into the business.
John Sacco: Nice.
Brian Shine: And he's been with us now for 49 years. He's still active, still flying. In fact, we have a company aircraft and that's how we — we came to Chicago.
John Sacco: So, do you know how similar the stories of the background other — my dad was an immigrant — my dad was the immigrant. Okay. And, after World War II, he — rags, bags, and metals from the farmers. Same thing. I'm second generation. You're what, fourth?
Brian Shine: I'm fourth and I have three sons. My oldest of which works for us.
John Sacco: So, you've got five generations. Fantastic.
Brian Shine: Five generations, yeah.
John Sacco: Such as the story of this great industry and — and this is what makes up who we are and what we are. It's why, you know, it's just really the best. So, you — you are now the current ISRI Chair. Tell us a little bit of how and why you got involved with ISRI to get to the path to where you are now as Chairman. How —what made you say, ‘I'm going to get involved and I like this?’
Brian Shine: As I was going through high school, I worked at — at the — at the plant and I knew I loved it. I knew that was going to be the field I was going to go. And I — I just absolutely, from the minute I started working in — in the recycling industry, knew that was for me. When I — before I graduated, I was supposed to go to New York City and work for a year for a — a world famous copper trader named Harold Saks. Three months before I graduated, he was over in London, getting ready to make a speech and he went out for a run and, unfortunately for him and — and for me, keeled over and died in — in London. So that was the end of my outside work experience. Instead of graduating on Saturday, I started working Monday and I realized that here I am in this family business and if I don't branch out and get involved both in industry and non-industry activities, I'm only ever going to know the family business way and I wanted to bring something of value back. So, that's why I started getting involved in — in trade association work. And, I remember when I went to my first — this is dating me — but ISIS meeting, which is Institute of Scrap Iron and Steel and they merged with Neri, as you well know, to — to form ISRI. Anyway, I went to an ISIS meeting and my dad said, “how'd you like the meeting?” And I said, “well, it was — it was great. I loved it. Except, if I have to hear one more old-timer, say, ‘remember the good old days?’” I said, “you know, I'm here now and I want to talk about going forward.” And fortunately, I still carry that attitude with me because it's every day is that — an interesting opportunity in our business.
John Sacco: How great is it that ISRI and Neri — I mean, ISIS and Neri merged. We have a new name: ISRI. Can you imagine trying to go up on that Hill, “Hi, I’m from ISIS.”
Brian Shine: Yeah. Right? I’m the Chair of ISIS.
John Sacco: Not very good. So okay, you're in your path. You were chapter president.
Brian Shine: Yes. I became chapter president because of my involvement in the empire chapter and that was my first exposure to National. And, I remember when I was coming up through the chapter, there were many officers and members that had an impression of National as being the ivory tower and, you know, us versus them and — and National is trying to tell us what to do. It was it, I thought to myself, ‘that can't be right. It's made up of members.’ And, when I went and got involved in National, I realized that I was right because it — it is members that make up National that — that choose to get involved and serve on committees and — and as chapter presidents and — and that's who makes up National. So, I really — for me, an important part of my administration was to — to strengthen those links between National and —and chapters and members.
John Sacco: Yeah. Look, when I was Chairman: 2011, 2012, there was a — there was a — there's this disconnect at times that the chapter presidents felt like it was us versus them. And, of course, when you get to become Chairman or even when you become an officer, you realized that that's not even close to being the truth. So, you know, we always battled that and that battle still exists all these years later, really. So, let's talk and let's talk about the challenges, right now, our industry's facing. As Chairman, you — you're in the deep dive of — of what we're working on, on the Hill. What are our biggest challenges right now? What do the listeners need to know what’s going on the — the — the attack, if you will, on our industry?
Brian Shine: Well, there’s — there's a few things leading up to this. So as — as you first become an elected officer and ISRI really truly has set out a great process in terms of transitioning. People say to me, “how can you commit 10 years at the chapter level to rise to become the chapter president and then another 10 years at National?” And the way I look at it for — “this, this is your career. This is why we do this. This is who we are and the industry that we're involved with, so you want to want to be involved and at the table. So, when you first become elected as an officer, you start to imagine what it'll be like as Chair. And you ask, you know, all former chairs, including yourself and you are a huge mentor and — and guide to me, which I very much appreciate. And, almost every past chair said to me, “it's very difficult to prepare because you don't know what the issues are going to be at the time you’re Chair. You might think you know.” And, I'll give you an example. I — I assumed that I was going to be going to China quite a bit because that was a dominant player and outlet and that — I've not gone once as Chair to China and — but yet, I've gone to India three times. So, it's indicating where the market's moving to and other parts of the world as well. The biggest issues right now are preserving and protecting the fact that recycling is separate from — from waste hauling and waste management and they are separate activities. There are recyclables that come from those activities for sure and that's important. And we have many members now that are involved in those activities generating recyclables. So that's an important element, but it does need to be a distinction and so that's a big issue.
John Sacco: Well, when I was chairman. 2011, October, we're in — we're in Montecito, Santa Barbara and the EPA had just put out, in the federal registry, a new regulation that the definition of solid waste that puts scrap metals or commodities in the solid waste. So, we — we put together everybody. I — I think you were probably part of that and we fought. It took three and a half years to, so we get relief from EPA because they realize that they made an error in doing this, but we can't kill this. It seems it keeps coming, growing back, that they will keep wanting to lump our materials as waste.
Brian Shine: Yeah. It's a — it's a great point and it really highlights the value of — of ISRI, being an ISRI member because to take on that battle yourself as an individual owner operator would — would be cost-prohibitive. You couldn't do it.
John Sacco: You couldn’t do it.
Brian Shine: So, the fact is that this is the opportunity for ISRI to demonstrate its value and they do day-in and day-out and protecting and preserving our industry. So, right now, because of the actions taken by China, which I actually support, in that they were polluting the world. They were doing things that were not — open-air burning, for example. And, and some of the sortation practices they — they had. They had a very immature recycling industry. It did not grow as quickly as the manufacturing sector within China. So — so, they were doing things that they shouldn't have been doing and credit them — credit the Chinese government for recognizing it and, and I think doing good things. It pushed back the system and now recycling is — is being challenged as — as a practice here in the U.S, but I really think good things are going to come from this opportunity, this moment in time because I believe that ISRI is well-positioned to support. And, this is an everyday effort. You can't just take your eye off that ball and lose those contacts and relationships and then step back into it. So, everyday ISRI is fighting for us.
John Sacco: What — what agency are we working with the most right now at National? You know, where's the efforts right now? As Chairman, where — where do you have Rob and what are we focusing on right now — with— who we working with?
Brian Shine: I think really the most important relationship at the moment is EPA. And, I'll give you an example. We —we held meetings in July in Washington and we had the administrator of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, come to speak to us. He was given a standing ovation as he entered the room. And, it's so different than the old mentality of, you know, that's the — you have to watch out for and be concerned with. It’s a very collaborative relationship at this point. We have a seat at the table and we're one of many that are working towards making sure that products that are made, produced, and then discarded are recyclable. And, that's an important element for us because sometimes when you're a recycler, you feel like you're on an island. You're pointed to as causing problems when, in fact, we're actually here all to — to solve problems. But if they — if the manufacturers produce goods that aren't recyclable, then how can we be held responsible for — as a byproduct of our recycling activity?
John Sacco: So, design for recycling. Every year, ISRI has that award we present to a company that has really — and their products and their manufacturing has designed it completely for recycling.
Brian Shine: Yes.
John Sacco: When we go to the Hill and go to the different agencies and we get — deliver that message. Right now, what's the feedback from them? Are they like, “we understand your position and we want to work in creating this,” or is it like, “no, you guys are still the problem?”
Brian Shine: You know, we've had to design for recycling for over 30 years and we struggled with that at different times because we kept finding, kind of, the same type of companies and we weren't getting great participation. Right now, I think, my opinion, and I've always had a particular interest in design for recycling, I don't think the appetite has ever been better for the understanding of why that's important. This past year, for example, we honored Nestle Water for their development of 100% PET recycled bottle in distribution of their water bottles. So, that is a design for recycling that consumes recycled PET. And it's a really tremendous product. And it was an honor. The CEO of the division came to L.A. and accepted the award and delivered a really phenomenal speech that embraced and that's what we need. We need manufacturers to partner with recyclers, so that we can do our job effectively. And so, it is getting more play on the Hill.
John Sacco: Yeah, there doesn't seem to be much of an issue with ferrous materials, copper, aluminum, stainless steel, brass. You know, those are the easy, recyclable products. We don't really have issues, but plastic is just this gigantic — what — gorilla, elephant. I mean, just everybody, “Oh no, we want to move away from plastic” And yet, I was doing a podcast with Jason Young and people who design the products are also designing products that the consumer wants. That looks good and they're doing an aluminum bottle, but with a plastic top. And that contaminates it. So, it's not cool. It's cool because they're designing it for the consumer, but they haven't designed it completely for the end of life.
Brian Shine: Right? That's right. It's still a work in process. This is not an easy thing. We talk to people all over the country in terms of this effort and there's a cost associated. But, what I love about the challenge right now and — and people talking about recycling as being a struggling area and mostly focused on plastic. The reality is that this creates the opportunity. We need the consumer backlash so that we can apply pressure and solve the problem as recyclers. So, this is a work in process. Plastic isn't going away. It will change over time and we need to learn how to better and more effectively handle it. So, where ISRI is making a huge effort in the area of plastics because there's a lot of membership opportunity and a lot —lot — they need the services and — to be pulled together.
John Sacco: Well, you know. Okay. Paper and plastic right now. We were exporting in this country huge tonnages to China.
Brian Shine: Yes.
John Sacco: And some other Asian countries. Well, as we know, the plastic exportation is pretty much dried up. Paper values, commodity pricing has dropped dramatically. When we go — there needs — does there not need to be some form of incentive from the government to start putting more actual paper mills and plastic consumers, so these products, as much as we want to keep them out of landfill, if there is nobody consuming them and there's no market for it, they're going to end up in the landfill. So, what's our efforts? What's ISRI’s efforts in that area and what feedback have we gotten so far?
Brian Shine: It's — it is twofold. For sure, the government has a role to play in this, but we don't want government to mandate, for example, particular elements of this because if they do that, there's nothing to say that they can't go into other areas that already have ready markets. So, we need the government's help for sure. And we're working with them, for example, on infrastructure, so that — infrastructure is a very needed —much needed thing within our country. And, it's very bipartisan. The question, of course, is how to fund it and that's a whole different story. But at some point, we will have to make a commitment to — to fund infrastructure development and redevelopment within our country and that will boost all — all commodities. While one element of infrastructure development is — is the use of recycled content because that'll help drive market. So, you're right. If the economics are not there, it's not going to get recycled. People aren't — we're not here for benevolency and, so.
John Sacco: Yeah, yeah. We’re not here for fun.
Brian Shine: No, no. We need to make money at it and we're employing people and we're paying taxes. And so, we need to have markets that — that work and the government does have a role to play in that. But, I think really what's going to happen is that's going to be an element, but also innovation is going to happen because it's going to have to happen. We all recognize that there's only so much landfill space and that's not what we want to be doing with these products that do have the potential to get recycled. So, it's going to take an effort on the part of creative and industrial. And, we talked about the history in our industry and we do all collectively represent a very entrepreneurial area and very fluid and we will react and respond appropriately. And, this is the transition, the challenge. But, this is what creates opportunity and…
John Sacco: Oh, I agree. The opportunity is going to be: somebody who's going to create the technologies to start consuming these products in America to where we don't have to rely on the export. But you know, again, like California, you can't put a paper mill in California. You need land, water and energy. California can't afford any of that.
Brian Shine: Right.
John Sacco: Okay, so. Hopefully we get there. So, look. You're the Chairman and this podcast is going to go out all over the country. People listen. Why tell — your shot, Brian. Why should people — you know, there's people who need to join ISRI who aren't and there's people who are thinking, “wow, these markets are tough and I might drop out.” Tell them why they need to stay to — Go ahead. It's your turn, man. Let them know. Let it rip.
Brian Shine: Well, thanks for that opportunity. I appreciate that very much. And, the reality is that ISRI does play a critically important role. There are member benefits from being involved with the group that go beyond — well beyond — any dues that you may pay in terms of the opportunity to network and build relationships that benefit your business. I talked about within my own family business, if I wasn't involved, I probably maybe wouldn't be in business today because these relationships that you build create opportunity and whether it's joint ventures, which I have been involved in several. Whether it's a trading your particular materials and expanding your knowledge base, ISRI members are able to talk to each other in a — in a way that you wouldn't have that opportunity. So, I think there's many critical reasons to be in part and involved in ISRI. The staff that we have in place is top notch and truly represents the industry in interest. And, I don't think you can — you couldn't buy that on your own.
John Sacco: No way.
Brian Shine: No way.
John Sacco: That influence — that influence. You cannot — one company cannot influence, but together as a whole, we sure can influence.
Brian Shine: That's for sure. And ISRI is tremendously well valued. I've seen it in action myself. I was mentioning this July meeting that we just held in D.C. and one of the elements in the excitement was for me to go along and watch a bill being crafted and seeing Robin Wiener, our ISRI president, longtime president, in action and seeing her command the room and the respect that she is afforded. And if she wasn't there and positioned with those relationships, this bill would have been written and it would have been adverse to our industry. And so, they respect that she immediately commands as she goes into the room because of her approach to this is just, you know, second to none and it's critical for our interest.
John Sacco: You know, in California, again for listeners, they need to hear this because in California we had to sue Cal Recycle because they wanted to lump our commodities as waste and we are not waste handlers and we sued and we won. But, we sued on behalf of ISRI. And, the only way you get relief is by being in ISRI member. That will pay your dues for a lifetime. Think about if we go into the — if we're waste people. So, we won that. And so, in California, the only relief you get is you have to be an ISRI member because we sued on behalf of ISRI. So, you know, as a former chair…
Brian Shine: Oh, yeah.
John Sacco: You know, you and I, we’re the choir. Right?
Brian Shine: Yup.
John Sacco: You know, I want people listen to this to understand ISRI has — if it doesn't enhance your business, then you're absolutely not paying any attention to the benefits. I mean, look — look at the friendship you and I have, the networking you and I have, all our friends, mutual friends and all the business we have done. From trading materials for me in machine resells. Even in our markets and our scrap here because, you know, we have our scrapyard. It’s immeasurable the value of ISRI. And I — I just — and that's what frustrated me the most as Chairman is how membership didn't understand what we were doing.
Brian Shine: Well, at the end of the day, that's exactly right. And, it's up to us all to collectively make sure that that message is sent loud and clear because it is absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime to be involved and I think the most impressive thing to me to date as Chair has been the member involvement and seeing the skills and passion that members bring to — to this activity and to the work that we all do. And it's really —it's really heartwarming to be involved in that and see this work in action. Because as Chair, I know, you know, this much and to have the members around me supporting and supporting ISRI is just phenomenal. It's really been great.
John Sacco: Well Brian, listen, this has been fun for me to sit here with — with a friend and Chairman of ISRI. Thank you for the insight. I'm hoping listeners really can grasp what it is we do at ISRI. I thank you for your time and your leadership, your dedication to — without the dedication and your integrity that you bring to the position. You know, that's very important and I thank you for that and thank you for the time we've had here today.
Brian Shine: Thanks, John. It's been great. I love the friendship. Love you and thank you. Great job. Thank you, sir.
Conclusion: This has been a Sierra International Machinery original audio series. Thanks for listening. Please share this podcast and make sure to subscribe.