Pile of Scrap Ep. 23: ISRI’s Message to D.C.: Recycling Is Essential!
After making the tough decision to cancel ISRI’s annual convention due to COVID-19, ISRI President Robin Wiener and Chairman Brian Shine join John Sacco to discuss what members need to know going forward in this crisis. Taking into account how essential recycling is for infrastructure and critical manufacturing, these two leaders explain how diligently they’ve worked in pressuring the federal government to keep our industry in motion.
Watch this episode of Pile of Scrap here.
Robin Wiener, John Sacco, and Brian Shine
Introduction: The following is an original audio series from Sierra International Machinery Pile of Scrap with your host John Sacco.
John Sacco: Welcome to episode of, uh, Pile of Scrap: Zoom Edition – uh, ISRI Edition, if you will. And, um, you got Brian Shine, Chairman of ISRI. Brian, thank you and welcome.
Brian Shine: Thank you very much.
John: And, of course, very powerful President leader, Robin Wiener. Robin, thank you for joining us.
Robin Wiener: Thank you.
John: Well, everybody, this is some crazy times. Uh, unprecedented to everybody in this world, but also for a trade association like ISRI. And, we had to cancel – or postpone our, uh, convention this year in Vegas. My first question – and jump in – who ma–who had the final decision? Was that you Robin or is that you, Brian?
Robin: I think that’s Brian.
Brian: I – I guess, ultimately, I – it was my decision, but the reality is it was a strong team that was together throughout this whole process and I was quoted recently as saying it was one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make as we stay here, as we sit here today. It sure seems like an easy decision of course, but at the time, with the information at – that we had, um, it was a tough decision and it's unfortunate, but obviously clearly very necessary that – that we all came to that conclusion.
John: Well, you know, look, Brian, as a former chairman, uh, I don't envy you for the position. You've shown amazing leadership.
John: You really have, brother, and, you know, I feel for you. You've been cheated out of, uh, out of your spotlight. You know, look, you've dumped how many years into being an officer, you got to Chair one convention and your last convention, you know, you don't get to have. That's rough, but you've done it with grace and amazing strength, and I applaud you, and I think anybody who listens to this podcast has to know that it's selfless what you did and you take a hit that is, um, only as us chairmans know what that is.
Robin: John, can I also talk about that for a minute?
John: Yeah, go ahead, Robin.
Robin: Because I also – Brian's heard me say this before. I've talked to staff about this. Uh, it has been – it was a very difficult decision and, I agree, Brian, that in retrospect, maybe someone could say of course, it was obvious we should've done that, um, but it was difficult for so many reasons, including, um, what you mentioned, John, in terms of what the convention means in terms of the network of friends and, um, relationships that are developed in our opportunities to honor our leaders, like Brian has done. Just such a phenomenal job. And Brian, again, as you've heard me say a number of times, I feel so much for you because Brian has worked so hard and the number of hours and effort you've put in behind the scenes to evaluate all the pros and cons and options. I don't think anyone other than both of you and our other past chairs understands, really, what's involved. And, all of us on staff, we're really grateful for that leadership. And, um, I also – it's not only your – um, how smart you are and how, um, just thoughtful you are, but, Brian has also been very calm and a very stable influence during what is not a very stable period. And, so I want to thank Brian for that on behalf of all staff.
John: Right on.
Brian: Well, thank you both very much. It means the world to me, and I really do sincerely appreciate all that you both just said. Um, for me, it's truly – it's – there's so many elements of it being sad, but honestly, the – my part of it, I'm not at all worried about that. It never really factored in. I felt sad for my wife who put so much effort into it and all the staff: um, Chuck Carr and Andy Golding, our Convention Chair. Um, there was so much work and effort put into this. I felt sad about those elements. I really, probably, am most sad about the honorees, and, really, I've said this before, but starting with, with the kids. One of my favorite elements of the convention is the honorees that we get to have stand up in front of all of our members and staff and really be praised for all the things that they're doing. And, the kids, their creativity and effort to demonstrate, um, their beliefs about recycling. And, it's so refreshing to see it through the eyes of a child and it bodes well for our future because they start to become more and more aware of recycling and the critical role that we play. And then, moving all through the safety awards, and including transportation, and Golden Wrench, and others… And then, really, um, Lifetime Achievement Award. How can you – how can you possibly talk about what that means to stand in front of your peers after committing your life to the betterment of the recycling industry and all that that means and to accept their applause and thanks for a job well done. And so, it's sad that we're not going to have those elements along with all the great learning tracks and spotlights and commodity discussion and future trends, et cetera. But, you know what, those will come. We will not lose sight of the honorees that we intended to do and we will make sure that everybody is fully recognized. So it, um, at this point it's going to be out in San Diego and, uh, next year. But, that'll be a great convention. And, what I'm excited about is there'll be a lot of pent up demand. You know, people are going to be really ready to connect and my guess is it's gonna be an amazing convention.
John: Well, fantastic.
Robin: John, do you mind if I just comment on the awards because we just had an all-staff, uh, Zoom meeting this morning and talked about the awards in particular.
John: Go ahead.
Robin: And, just so your audience knows, um, as Brian said, we're not letting those go by. Um, whether it's our Young Executives Award or the Lifetime Achievement, the Safety Awards, the, uh, DFR, and certainly the Jason Awards for, uh, school children. We're planning on continuing with all of them. As a matter of fact, we'll probably be sending out an announcement in the next week or two to members that we're going to extend, actually, the submission deadline and then probably as early as July – at the July board meeting, which will be in D.C, we're going to find opportunities for highlighting a number of those and we'll find other forums for all the other awards.
John: Well, I think that's great. And, communicating that, you know, communication during this period is key to, you know, and I – so many deserving people keep the communication. So, look, as a former chairman and as a – as an exhibitor of ISRI, so, I've got a few questions for you that you may be able to answer, maybe not. What happens – Okay, Sierra – we sponsor the members-only room. We put up some significant money for that and our booth. What – what are – what are you telling the exhibitors, the people who put up their money already? What's the policy of ISRI? What can they know from this meeting as they, as we go forward – What happens?
Robin: Okay. Well, certainly, first of all, I have to say we are so grateful for the support of your company and all the sponsors and exhibitors to the convention each year. And, in recognition of how much, um, we value that relationship, we're actually going to be calling every individual sponsor and exhibitor over the next 30 days and having individual conversations, excuse me, individual conversations about the best way to, um, handle what the next steps are. Whether it's a refund or it's getting a place for next year already. Um, so we're going to be working with every individual exhibitor and sponsor to come up with the individual solution that's best for them.
John: Well, that's good. Okay. What about ISRI member – people who, um, signed up – the individual company members – people who send in their money already and what happens to them?
Robin: We've actually set up a very easy-to-use system to get the refunds processed and we get a 100% refunds if that's what people choose. And, that will be available, I believe, starting on Friday. We're still finalizing the exact date that the system will be ready to go. We're testing it to make sure that there are no challenges with it.
John: All right. You know, this is, um, this is why we had 22 to 24 million dollars in our reserves for the unknown event. Um, and I want to talk a little bit about… Do we know how the reserves have performed? I mean, look, we know the market's down 35%. Uh, how has the reserve fund at this point? So, ISRI members who will listen to this and there will be a lot. What do they need to know about the reserve fund?
Robin: Well, first of all, they need to know that it's in great hands. Not only do we have an outside investor advisor, um, for investments, but we also have a phenomenal team of leaders – volunteer leaders who help working with our CFO, Margie, to monitor the fund at all – at all times. And, the good news is that although the market has gone down about 35%, the investments have not gone down at at the same percentage. It's below that. Um, I can't tell you the number as of today, but I know as of a couple days ago it was under – it was performing better than market.
John: Okay, well that's good to hear. Brian.
Brian: Yeah, if I can just weigh in on that – that piece as well? Long ago, ISRI membership, um, really established policies – investment strategies that have held true to this day. Um, we've had many leaders in the investment subcommittee and we're currently led in that area by Neil Byce, along with working with the finance team. And, um, we've really tested that policy to make sure that it's still adequate. And, it's so interesting because ISRI is a longterm investor. Some of our members are getting a little older now, so you tend to bring your own slant to the investment strategy. But the reality is, ISRI is here for a long time to come. And, it's my belief and the belief of the people that are currently in leadership positions that we need to stay true to the original policy that was put in place because it was put in place and well-vetted by the entire Board for good reason. And, so it's worked quite well. Obviously we're going to go down as the market goes down, but we're going to come back as the market comes back in and it will for sure over time.
John: That part is true, uh, undoubtedly, but are you prepared or can you say, you know, without holding the convention, you know, the convention is one of the most – is it the #1 or #2 revenue source other than, you know, other than membership conventions? The number one revenue source at ISRI. Not holding a convention. Um, what does that do for ISRI in a fiscal year – in a one year – just one year snapshot?
Robin: It's a great question and there's – it's not just the direct financial impact, there's other impacts as well. But, let me talk about the financial. The good news is that, um, ISRI did take – we have cancellation insurance and we also have communicable disease endorsement on that cancellation insurance. Not sure that's an endorsement that will be available in the future, but we are fortunate to have it this year. And so, um, our – any cancellation fees would be covered by that – I’m sorry – not the cancellation fees, the, um, losses and the profits should be covered by that. Obviously the insurance companies are going to be fighting it. Um, but we will be getting outside counsel as needed and be working to make sure that we retrieve that loss. Um, in terms of the cancellation fees, we had, uh, we have very strong counsel – general counsel and we wrote contracts that were written very well and had forced mature clauses and therefore our cancellation, uh, damages were being released from as well. So, actually, um, we will – I’m confident that we will recover, um, financially the direct loss from the convention, but it's going to take time. So, there'll be cashflow issues and that's where the investments are going to be very key for us to help us cover the cashflow over the short-term. But, there's also the issues of ‘How do we pivot?’ Just like you and your business, and Brian and your business, and all other businesses, recyclers around the country, and around the world are shifting how you do business in order to do businesses in this environment. We're also pivoting and shifting. So, we're looking at how we take our content from that convention, which was, uh, pretty well advanced by this point. A couple of weeks after the convention. And, turn it around into webinars and podcasts and other information we can provide to members for their use. Um, and, and we're looking at other opportunities, perhaps doing something at the commodities round table in Chicago in September to help members with what we would have done at the convention with our Young Execs and other groups. So, we are going to look at other things that we can do to bring people together to meet the needs that, um, the convention served. Um, interestingly, one of the, um, the impacts that we don't immediately think about is our magazine. Our magazine was geared towards the convention issue. Um, so we've had to pull that back and rewrite a lot of the articles in there, change a lot of the ads that focused on booth numbers of the convention, et cetera. So, the magazine, this latest issue, will be delayed, but it will go out. Um, so there've been impacts around the association, but we're doing everything we can to pivot, um, and be there for the members.
John: Well, that's, you know, that's great. You know, well, one of the things for me, I was really looking forward to meeting Gary V. Um, you know, since I do – this is a podcast and he influenced me – you know, this is a kind of a side note to all this, but I've watched him once and it was only a one-minute clip and that one minute influenced me, on a personal level, to do what I'm doing now. And, you know, sometimes my dad, you know, he’d say, “A word to the wise: just sufficient.” I didn't need a lot of prodding in, you know, as far as, “Well, should I do this or I shouldn’t?” One minute of listening to him and I knew he was spot-on to how to market and how social media plays a big role and I want to segue from what Gary would have told us as an industry is – Robin, you and I were talking before we got started. Um, during this current times, you know, we're trying to, you know, recycling, in a lot of states, is deemed an essential, uh, essential, uh, manufacturing and, you know, central business to stay open. And, I'm trying to get that message out from Sierra’s standpoint because from our recycling facility. How's it working on the national end? And Brian, from New York, you know – you're in New York. You've got to. So, Brian, why don't you go first on this one? How is that the essential business working for the New York area and the, you know, the whole New England area, and what are you seeing?
Brian: Well, actually, I – first, I'd like to thank Robin and our staff because I often hear, you know, “What's the value that that ISRI brings? Why should I be an ISRI member?” and, you know, “What does this we really do?” And, honestly, there are so many activities that ISRI does, but it's not easy to break it down because each individual member looks at things differently than – they may have a certain hot topic and so forth. Well, this crisis that we're currently in is really an indication of the value of ISRI because ISRI, led by Robin, has stepped up and supported all recyclers throughout the U.S, so it started at a federal level, um, has reissued a letter to Vice President Pence describing, in detail, why it is an essential industry and why we should be exempt, um, and allowed to continue working with the critical aspects of that are. And, as a result of that, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance, which we are still trying to refine and it's being used by the States and mirrored. So, you asked the question about New York state, my business within New York state as well as all New York state recyclers are considered essential. And, it's critical. We – the things that we do, um, allow for continuation of the infrastructure and manufacturing of goods that have the direct impact on our ability as a nation to fight COVID-19 and all related. And, that includes every element of manufacturing, um, Department of Defense, transportation, infrastructure, and things that are critical to our ongoing ability as a country to continue and fight through this. So, it's been incredible, uh, to see ISRI step forward and work tirelessly for all members. And, I just, again, want to commend Robin and thank you because this is really the moment that makes you proud to be an ISRI member and brings it all back as to why it's so critical to support our trade association. Individually, as owners and operators, we could never make this impact. ISRI is a trade association. The work that they do day-in and day-out positions us with credibility and integrity to be able to put forward this critical message. And, it's having major impact. And, um, now there is a responsibility that goes with the designation of essential. We still need to critically continue to follow the guidance to protect our own staff and the people that we're interacting with in the community, and in large – at large because we all have a role and responsibility to play. But as long as we can conform within the required guidelines, it's a really important feature to, to continue.
John: Yeah. Robin.
Robin: Thank you, Brian. And thank you, John. Um, first of all, I have to say how incredibly proud I am of the ISRI staff. We pivoted very quickly to all working remotely. And, I think it's fair to say I'm a little nervous about how that would go. Um, but it's gone incredibly well and the team has really come together and as soon as we understood that the crisis that was affecting members – that the biggest need they had was just being able to stay open and getting that essential, uh, business designation. We moved into action, as you said, we've got the letter that went to the VP last week, VP Pence, um, which laid out the case for why recyclers are essential businesses that need to stay open. Um, there was, two days later, a document from the Department of Homeland Security that outlined what critical manufacturing is that implicitly included the supply chain. But, we were very concerned that it wasn't explicit enough. And so, we, along with a lot of other industries, but I reached back out to the White House, um, tried to pressure the White House through contacts on the Hill, um, and within the administration. And as a result, the Department of Homeland security or CISA, which is their group within it, issued new guidelines that are on their web – on the web that were issued sometime… We're not sure if it was Sunday or Monday morning that actually specifically now include the supply chain. So, we have the language we need and we've been sending it out to members. We're going to send it out an alert to all members. The only comment I'll make is that while within the manufacturing economy, stakeholders understand the role of recyclers and the recycling industry in supplying manufacturing. It's not something that's always well known, as all of you know, outside the industry. And, a good example is: I've heard of number of members that I've had their employees stopped by law enforcement on the way to work…
Robin: And, when they've showed their letters showing that they're a part of essential industry. Um, law enforcement is sometimes given them a hard time. So, for that reason, yesterday, we reached back out to the Department of Homeland Security as well as two other entities asking for an explicit inclusion of recycling within the critical manufacturing definition. We're not sure if we can get that because, again, we're in there already but not explicitly. So, we are going to try to get something more. And as you said, Brian, a lot of states are relying on that language and every time we hear of a state that's taking action as with a stay-at-home order or something similar, Danielle Waterfield and Justin who are two folks in safety or your safety staff or rather, um, state staff have been working tirelessly to reach out to all members in that state with the guidance for their state information about how they determine that they're essential businesses. And, we've been doing that day and night with all the states that have come out with designations and it's something we're going to continue. But, I would urge all members to reach out to us directly if you're not sure what's happening in your State and we will get that information to you.
John: Well, that goes back to what I said earlier: Communication, Robin. And, this is great news. Hopefully we can get – quote on quote – the words that we really need is: “The recycling industry is exempt.” If we can get those words, um, that's a big win. But, we are critical manufacturing for the fact of the matter is – does anybody really know the percentage of all goods made? Without recycled products in the – to the manufacturing as raw materials from paper to copper, aluminum, stainless steel, and iron. What percentage of materials made in this country or in the world or made with actual recycled content in it?
Robin: Well, we do know that, on average, across all the commodities, that about 40% of the raw material needs of the global manufac–of global manufacturing comes out of the scrap industry. So, they are very dependent. Obviously, it varies considerably from commodity to commodity, but a good example – a great example, actually, in today's world, is toilet paper that, um – I've worked with, uh, our members and with, uh, the American Forest and Paper Association to get the specific numbers at – I found out that 58% of these in-feed – the feedstock – into tissue mills that make toilet paper, is actually from recovered fiber. So, that's a great example of: Without our industry, we're not going to get toilet paper restocked on our shelves.
John: Well, that’s our tagline. It's, “Without our industry, nothing's going to get made,” ‘cause you can't just cut 40% to 50% of all raw materials and expect these things to get made. You can't have that kind of a raw material reduction and expect quantities, suddenly, you know, the mask that are making and there's a lot of recycled content that goes into those things and into plastics and, you know, all the copper for the electronics for the respirators that need to be made. You know, our industry is supplying very raw material that is needed to make those products.
Robin: Right. And, another great example is steel. Uh, 70% of all steel manufactured in the U.S. today is manufactured using scrap as a feedstock. And, I found out this morning that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued letters talking about the essential needs of fiber – scrap fiber, recovered fiber and plastics for medical devices, medical supplies, et cetera, but didn't mention ferrous. And so, we're communicating with, um, the Department of Transportation to get that done. So, uh, yeah, we all know how vital recyclables are in the manufacturing supply chain, but it's not always known elsewhere. And therefore, we're doing everything we can to reach all the appropriate agencies and entities to get that information out.
John: Brian, you – Manitoba, your company… You make – processor of copper. Is there a particular industry that you supply into that you know for a fact that is making medical supplies right now?
Brian: Uh, yes, actually we, uh, a lot of our customers are directly focused either on Defense Department, uh, aerospace, automotive or medical. Those are the main industries that we supply copper into that becomes a component of manufacturing for those various industries, all of which are deemed essential. And, we have letters from every single one of them confirming that the supply chain will stay intact and explaining why they are essential and, therefore, why we are essential. And, so yes, to answer your question, that's exactly right. Our copper's used for it.
John: Right. So, that goes back, Robin, too… Again, back to communication. I want to reiterate the importance of our industry members who listen to this podcast will see it: Make sure you, you know, you open the emails from ISRI about the language that you need –for the documentation you need to make sure you let the officials in your local area understand on a federal level, we are an essential industry.
Robin: And, I would also ask everyone to check their spam filters because I found out this morning from one of our members that he hadn't been receiving the emails from us, um, and they got caught in the spam filter. And, because we're also attaching a lot of vital information to these documents – some of them are very large. Um, and because we're sending out to a number of people at the same time, often, that gets caught in the spam filters. So, if you haven't heard from us, um, you should have, so check spam filters. If you still can't find it, reach out to me directly at email@example.com and I'm happy to make sure you're connected.
John: Well, that's fantastic. So, so let's shift a little bit here. You know, when I, you know, we're going to close up here, we've been on this call. Brian, I want to go to you for a second. Um, you know, the transition, you know, from Chairman, you know, Gary Chaplin is – Chaplin is – excuse me, Champlain is going to be the next Chair. When does that transition going to take place? How's that gonna work?
Brian: Well, you know, I talked about how I was sad that the honorees are not going to be, um, uh, awarded at this convention because we're not having the convention. Similarly, the transition of power to Gary who has worked so hard to get to this point and that is not going to get to be official or officially done in April as, um, as was intended. So, we're still working on that. We're trying to figure out the best, most efficient way to make that transition happen. And, uh, we actually have a Board call – Board of Directors call later this week, so we'll be, um, we'll be talking about that a little bit more. Um, Gary is as poised and ready to go and will make a great next Chairman and I look forward to his term whenever it starts. Um, whether that be at the end of April or possibly in July when we, hopefully, are next together in D.C. We're working on that.
John: So, there's a tradition that Chairmans, uh, on their – at the last convention, they have a roast. So, a lot of us think you cancelled the convention because you don't want to be roasted.
John: No, I – we all know that's not it. But, uh, you know, that's another thing that you're being robbed of. Um, you know, it's – I think about my roast and I think a lot about Jerry Sims’ roast and George Adams’ and Doug Framer’s, so… You know, that is, uh, that's a tradition. And, hopefully, we can have – we can carry that on in D.C. this summer though, Brian, because you can't get out of it without a little roasting.
Robin: And, Brian, I promise you’re not gettin’ out of it.
John: Well, that's good. Well, listen, you know what, everybody, you know, again, you're doing an amazing job in just incredibly tough circumstances. Uh, Brian, again, I want to say my heart goes to you, but you've done this with amazing grace. Um, your calmness, your leadership as a chairman, you know, I'm proud to call you my friend, but you know, I'm very proud as a former chair to know that you are the current Chair. You have done – nobody could have done a job any better than what you have done. And, I mean that from my heart. And, um, you know, brother, God bless you and keep up the good work. And, Robin, you too. You know, uh, I know you and I've worked with you for a lot of years and I know the hard work you put in and all those emails I would give out in California that would be 11:30 your time at night and I would always respond to you when I was Chairman: “What are you doin’ awake?” And, the hours that you put in.
Robin: Last time.
John: Well, it is. It's quiet time. And, I know how hard you work. And, to both of you: keep up – look, there's a lot of work yet to be done, a lot of communication yet to be had and sent to the membership. And, if there's anything that I can do… And, I'm hoping this podcast – we'll get this out right away as I communique to the people in the recycling industry just what ISRI is, what ISRI is doing, the tough decisions you've had to make, the positive notes from the financial aspect, and what you're doing and to the exhibitors, and, um, you know, I support you guys 100% as an exhibitor, not only as a past chair, but as an exhibitor… You did the right thing and, yeah, it's easy to say now it was the right thing, but, when you guys pulled the trigger and said, “No convention.” That wasn't an easy decision because we didn't have all the information, we didn't have everything we had that we know now and it's been a few weeks. So, you know what, you did a hell – heck of a job. Both of you. Keep the good work going and I'm here to support you and get your message out as well. So, thank you both. Robin, last word to you and then to Brian.
Robin: Sure. I just want to thank you, John, for giving us this opportunity to talk about what ISRI is doing. And, I would ask all the members out there that if there's something that ISRI can or should be doing for you that we're not right now, so please reach out and let me know. We're really trying to understand exactly what the needs are of members whether it's getting information, um, through federal stimulus, the essential designation, et cetera. But yeah, please, please, please let us know. We want to be there for you, um, in all the needs that you have as an industry.
John: Thank you, Robin. Brian.
Brian: Well, thank you, John, very much for the warm words. I mean, incredible. It means the world to me, so thank you for that. My feeling about it, though, is, honestly, it takes the team and the team is staff and members. I feel so fortunate and so well-supported throughout this whole process. And so I, again, appreciate your warm words, but I truly appreciate you and all the members and as well as staff. I do feel very lucky. So, thank you for spreading the word. It is amazing that a one-minute Gary V – the action that you took. And so, great job, John. Thanks.
John: Well, everybody, thank you. And, that's been another episode of Piles of Scrap. The ISRI convention update version. Thank you, everybody.
Robin: Thank you.
Brian: Thank you.
Conclusion: This has been a Sierra International Machinery original audio series. Thanks for listening. Please share this podcast and make sure to subscribe.