When Katie Ilecki, vice president & general manager at Metalico Rochester, was approached about serving as the Empire Chapter advocate for ISRI’s Women in Recycling Council (WIR) she found the role intriguing and natural. “It’s already part of my daily life,” she says. “I am a woman in recycling, and I want to support the council.”

As she got acclimated to the volunteer position she began connecting with others and raising awareness about WIR. “I got to know people in my chapter, both men and women, and engage their interest in joining WIR. Being an advocate is about developing those connections at the chapter level,” she says.

Stepping into her new role as lead advocate, Ilecki is excited to continue spreading awareness about WIR and building a space where recyclers support each other. “In the outside world we’re suppliers, consumers, and even competitors but being active in this group provides a space to promote one another,” she says.

The Role of an Advocate

Advocates function as liaisons between their chapter and WIR. At advocate meetings, they discuss industry issues such as logistics, regulations, or legislation, then share those concerns with their chapter. “We discuss issues like increasing costs and how to keep retention and attract new talent. The advocates take these issues back to their chapters and then return to our meetings with new ideas from the chapters,” Ilecki says.

Advocates do more than attend meetings, says Sandy Pierce, commodity trader at PADNOS and WIR co-chair. “WIR advocates are like the extended arms of the council,” she says. “We want members to recognize the importance of having a diversity of voices. If you don’t see women in leadership roles that help them become successful, then you’re at risk of losing an important group of voices.”

A former WIR lead advocate herself, Pierce says being an advocate is an opportunity to network within the chapter. “Being an advocate puts you in a position to get to know a lot of people in your area,” she says. “Then you bring those issues to the national level and help companies across the country grow as well.”

WIR advocates are well-equipped to share local issues with the larger council. “As a national council, WIR covers all regions that encompass ISRI,” Pierce says. “The importance of using local advocate and representative is critical. WIR advocates are in a unique position as they are leaders of their local chapter and can be a bridge to the national council.” Being close to state representatives, other local recyclers, and ISRI chapter events are opportunities for advocates to promote WIR to those both inside and outside the industry.

Getting Inspired

Krista Ostuno, president of Heavy Weight Inc, CEO of HW Green Company Inc., and WIR advocate for ISRI’s New England Chapter, was inspired to get involved at ISRI2022. “Though our company has been an ISRI member for years, ISRI2022 was my first convention,” she says. “My brother and I recently transitioned into leadership roles in the company and wanted to attend.”

Though she’d read about WIR, attending the One ISRI Recycling Workshop, an ISRI2022 session sponsored by WIR, cemented her interest. “The workshop was very impressive,” she recalls. “The overall convention was a wonderful networking experience and extremely educational and informative.”

Ostuno was struck by how easy it was to talk to members at the reception that followed the workshop. “Everyone was willing to share their experiences and backgrounds,” she recalls. “It was inspiring to hear women like Nidhi [Turakhia], Brandi [Harleaux], and Sandy [Pierce] talk about WIR. It made me want to do more and get involved.”

The desire to get involved was one of the factors that motivated Kimberly Scott, senior buyer at Novelis, to join WIR and become the West Coast advocate. “I was recruited by Josephita Harry [WIR vice chair] who helped me get involved in several community service projects that were sponsored by WIR at the ISRI chapter meetings,” she recalls. “I enjoyed giving back to the communities where we hold our meetings.”

Being an Active Advocate

When Pierce attends Michigan Chapter events, she makes it a point to discuss WIR and the importance of bringing more female voices into the industry. “If you’re not purposefully including women, then you’re accidently excluding some really valuable voices,” she says. “We need to intentionally look for those voices at the local level and encourage chapter leaders to do the same.”

Scott agrees, noting that women have been in the minority in the industry. “Through WIR we have bonded over our strengths, recognizing the talents and gifts of each generation, and cheering each other on with support and mentorship from the men and women who have paved the way,” she says. “Now, we can carry the torch, embracing each other’s qualities and differences.”

Like Pierce, Ilecki uses her position as Lead Advocate to share WIR updates and information with her chapter. “We had an Empire chapter event in July. I reached out to the chapter president and asked if I could have a few minutes to talk about WIR,” she says.

As a new advocate, Ostuno is excited to get more involved in ISRI. “I’m also a new board member for the ISRI New England chapter so I’m still getting acclimated to everything,” she says. “It’ll be a good opportunity to raise awareness about WIR and to meet other women and learn about their positions and concerns.”

Networking, Career Growth, and More

For those interested in the advocate program Ilecki is happy to answer questions. “The advocates are volunteering their time for this,” she says. “We want to give them the information they need so they can understand what they’re getting into and why we do what we do.”

Pierce recommends getting involved at the chapter level. “Having a connection and relationship at the local chapter level helps bring more value to the national level; and local chapter events are easier for most people attend than national events.”

Cultivating a supportive community in a normally competitive business setting is one aspect of WIR Ilecki most enjoys. “It takes the day-to-day business out and provides a space for us to make greater personal connections,” she says. “We can discuss issues we’re facing as an industry instead of talking about financials or the bottom line.”

In addition to networking, Pierce recommends the role to women who are looking to grow their careers in the industry. “It provides a platform for women to gain confidence and sharpen their leadership, speaking, and presentation skills.”

Over time advocates develop comradery with one another. “It’s so important,” Ilecki says. “This industry is stressful but participating in a program like this is a chance to step back and acknowledge how amazing and talented your colleagues are. It’s a chance to turn off the stress, meet new people, and be supportive of other members in the industry.”

First body photo: Courtesy of Metalico. All other photos: Courtesy of ISRI. 

Hannah Zuckerman

Hannah Zuckerman

Hannah is a Writer & Editor for ISRI's Scrap News. She's interested in a wide range of topics in the recycling industry and is always eager to learn more. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in History and a minored in Creative Writing. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband.