ISRI2024 kicked off with a celebration of ISRI’s history and future.

“We promote safe, economically sustainable, environmentally responsible recycling. But I think it’s more than that,” said ISRI President Robin Wiener in a video montage that played during the opening session. The video covers ISRI’s origins, mission and future:

ISRI Convention Chair Stephen Moss then took to the stage and announced that the exhibit hall was sold out and that there were 6,624 official ISRI2024 registrants – a number that has grown considerably since the announcement – representing 70 countries, making ISRI2024 the largest ISRI convention ever. A great culmination of Moss’s work and his efforts as this year marked his last year as convention chair. Moss was thankful for the support he received from his wife, daughters and his father Stanton Moss, a former ISRI convention chair.

ISRI Chair Brian Henesey offered his gratitude for Stephen Moss’s eight years of service as convention chair and acknowledged Stanton Moss’s role in laying the foundation of what was possible in the position as one of the first convention chairs.

“Planning is dynamic, goal setting is essential and the ability to alter plans can lead to success,” said Henesey as he covered ISRI’s achievements over the past two years. Some of the achievements include meeting membership goals, growing across all commodity sectors, becoming demographically diverse, coming out of COVID stronger than many other associations and strong financials.

Henesey also touched on ISRI’s expanded advocacy work and impact the recycling industry has had with legislatures as sustainability and electrification continue to be top of mind on Capitol Hill. “We are not just part of the solution but essential to the solution,” Henesey said.

Henesey congratulated incoming ISRI Chair Colin Kelly and offered the following words of advice to his colleagues and to the industry as a whole, “We have come through our experiences better and stronger. More change is coming…our success comes from how we manage it and how we own it.”

Youth Recycling Awards

Peter Van Houten presented the Youth Recycling Awards. This year’s Poster Contest winners are Emily Arendas, Megan Potthoff, and Heather Smarick, who are seniors at Norwin High School in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Their teacher is Joyce Muchoney. Their poster displayed their ideas for redesigning paper plates for increased recyclability, including changes to the product’s packaging, adding a removable bio-based layer, and adding a reuse text reminder on the plates themselves.

The Video Contest winners are Sadie Mangal and Luciana Nishanian, third grade students at Willow Springs Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia. Their teacher is Logan Williams. Their video, “Sustainable Dolls” showed how to redesign toy dolls for recycling by making parts removable, improving labeling and using recyclable cardboard packaging.

Lifetime Achievement Awards

Mel Wright and Joel Denbo were presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Wright was recognized for his dedication to advancing the recycled materials industry and his lifelong commitment, leadership, and service to the industry. He was honored and genuinely touched when he found out he would be a recipient of the award. Wright felt “truly blessed to be able to make a living and build a business with my family.” He was very thankful to his family, the ISRI Board, committee chairs, past chairs and ISRI President Robin Wiener. “The greatest freedom you have is the right to be heard and represent your business,” said Wright as he ended his speech by stressing the importance of members to meet with their legislatures on both the national and local level.

Denbo was honored for his inspirational leadership, focus on safety, and commitment and service to the industry. He was ISRI Chair in 2004 and transformed how ISRI approached safety. He felt a great sense of honor to be bestowed with this award, “It is the jewel in the crown that represents years of participation in the industry.” Denbo was grateful and thankful for his supportive family and children that group on the road with him as he travelled for his business and for ISRI. He also expressed his thankfulness for his company and for ISRI.. Before he left the stage he left attendees with a final safety message, “Please provide a safe workplace for your employees. I wish you good markets and I wish you a fine (fine or fond?) farewell.”

Alex Salkever, author, futurist and thought leader in AI and technology trends was the first keynote speaker. “Over the next 10 years all kinds of incredible things will happen.” Salkever presented an optimistic view of the future with AI and robotics pushing things forward. A new space age has already begun as we now launch 50 times more satellites than we used to. A new age for clean energy is emerging with solar powered cars that can go 1,000 miles on one charge. Self-driving helicopter drones, once thought only to exist in an episode of the “Jetsons” are now only a few years away, with prototypes already made. What is making all this possible according to Salkever is the cost of storing data has declined, connectivity has become ubiquitous, and sensors are now cheaper than ever. “The future is now.”

Michael Werner, head of sustainability programs & innovation for Global Sustainability at Google was the second speaker. “We’re moving from a fossil fuel economy to a mine mineral economy,” said Werner as he presented AI solutions for a circular economy. He highlighted three tools that Google’s parent company Alphabet created to help meet a net zero future. The first was Recycling Near Me, a geospecific, hyperlocal tool in Google Maps and Google Search that showed users where they could drop off recycling. The second tool was CircularNet, a free open source computer vision model for better detecting recyclable plastics. X, Moonshot factory is working to identify materials at the molecular level and already has a pilot program in Oregon. “Let’s sequester carbon in the economy, not in landfills,” said Werner as he closed out his remarks.

Arnulfo Moreno

Arnulfo Moreno

Arnulfo Moreno is a Communications Manager at ReMA. He is fascinated by the innovation and sustainability found in the recycling industry. He graduated from The Catholic University of America where he majored in Media Studies and minored in Spanish. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with his collection of short stories he hopes to one day finish writing.