Mr. Keefe joined GIE Media, Recycling Today’s parent company, in 1991 in a sales and market research capacity. In 1992 he was promoted to Marketing Manager for GIE’s recycling business and in 1993 promoted to Sales and Marketing Manager for GIE’s portfolio of media products.
In 1995 his focus returned to the recycling industry when he was promoted to Publisher of Recycling Today and its affiliate publications. Since that time Mr. Keefe has remained active in the recycling, waste and environmental services industry, meeting with industry leaders, participating in industry conferences and meetings in North America and globally. He has visited recycling, scrap processing and waste management facilities as well as consumers of recycled commodities across the globe.
John Shegerian: Get the latest Impact podcast right into your inbox each week. Subscribe by entering your email address at impactpodcast.com to make sure you never miss an interview. This episode of the Impact podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts and Impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com. This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity focused hardware destruction company in the United States, and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. I’m John Shegerian. I’m so excited to have with me today my good friend, Jim Keefe. He’s the EVP and group publisher of Recycling Today Media Group. Welcome to the Impact podcast, Jim.
Jim Keefe: Hey, John. It’s great to be with you today. Thanks so much for having me on. I appreciate being on the show.
John: It’s totally my pleasure. You’ve done so much for the recycling industry as a whole. The recycling industry wouldn’t be in the great shape that it’s in right now without someone like you leading the way with such a responsible publishing platform. Before we get to talking about all the good work you’re doing at Recycling Today and all the conferences that you’re holding, more specifically, the upcoming battery recycling conference that we’re all going to be attending, I’d love you to share a little bit of your background and how you even got here running such a fascinating and important group in the publishing world during your career.
Jim: Thanks for the kind introduction, John. That’s very generous of you. I would say, first of all, that I think any success that we have at Recycling Today is really the result of the great team that we have. We’re very fortunate to have a wonderful team from our designers and our sales team to our journalists, who put together all of the content that we produce. We think that we’re fortunate to be able to report on such an amazing industry as the recycling industry. I always refer to view that it’s an invisible business. It happens, people know it exists, but they don’t really understand how it happens. We’ve been able to have a lot of fun reporting on, frankly, the science behind all of the recycling that gets done in the world. I’ve had the privilege of being here for a little over 30 years. I joined our parent company, GIE Media, in a sales and market research role many years ago, working for our founder. My first project was working on something in the recycling industry. As we worked through that project, I shuffled into a full-time position with the group, and within a couple of years time, I had moved through several different jobs at GIE Media and took over the reins of running our recycling business. It’s been a very fun ride. Today, we are the brand stewards for Recycling Today. I always think of ourselves as stewards because the fact is Recycling Today was founded way back in 1963 long before my time. Most people don’t realize how old it is. I always feel like a big part of our job is to steward the brand. We’re the caretakers for this generation but we have to bring it to the next generation. We’re also the publishers of Waste Today Magazine as well as Construction and Demolition Recycling. That gives us a very wide perspective on the environmental services industry. You also, I think, are aware, John, that we published for many years Recycling Today Global Edition, specifically as the recycling industry moved from a more nationalistic business to a very global business affected by world trading patterns. That was also a project and a publication that was a lot of fun for us but allowed us to do a lot of reporting on the recycling industry worldwide. We still do that through our Recycling Today Global Report, which is a monthly e-newsletter that covers the global recycling business. We’ve always felt that our job and our role really is to cover the business of recycling because a lot of people have goals and objectives, but unless you can make the business side of it work and you know as a private businessman, it’s wonderful to have an investment grant that can help you invest in infrastructure. But the fact is, you know at the end of the day, if the business model doesn’t work, you won’t be successful long-term. We’ve always looked at ourselves as the business magazine for recycling professionals.
John: You’ve been around since 1963 which was way before it was cool to be green, to be sustainable, before the vernacular such as the shift from linear to circular economy was upon us. But now that the trend of sustainability and good ESG responsibly achieved behavior and the shift from linear to circular economy seems an unstoppable and undeniable trend, share a little bit about the evolution of Recycling Today Magazine from the 60s to where you are today. Are the macro trends more in your favor as a business enterprise, as an entrepreneurial venture running this very important publishing platform better than ever before?
Jim: It’s changed fundamentally. In fact, Recycling Today was originally founded as Secondary Raw Materials Magazine. In 1968, which was really the sort of, first wave of the burgeoning environmental movement, the name was changed to Recycling Today. But the truth is that we have always viewed the industry as responsible for manufacturing specification raw materials. Everyone wants to think of recycling from an environmental perspective, and that’s important. It is an environmental business. But the truth is, if we’re unable, as an industry, to produce raw materials that can be used in the manufacture of new products, then we won’t have a business. That principle, I think, has really undercut a lot of what we’ve done over the years. It’s really underpinned who we are and our coverage of the business. When we look at how the business has evolved over the years, now, we have an environment where you’ve got a couple of things happening. One is we have large brand holders who are saying, “Listen, we want to make green products. We want to integrate recycled content into what we do.” We have the steel industry moving towards carbon neutral steel, green steel. We have the aluminum industry moving towards green aluminum. That requires recycled content, recycled raw material, to make it happen. The truth is, you need strong raw material quality to make it happen. The other element though is you have a lot of organizations. Particularly, we see this in the consumer packaged goods, the electronic space, where companies are moving towards zero waste and trying to reduce their carbon footprint. The environmental services business is really the underpinning of being able to make that happen. If you can’t effectively manage your waste streams to divert them into useful purpose, you will not get the zero waste, obviously.
Jim: It’s extremely difficult to reduce your carbon footprint. Our industry is having to change to be able to handle a wider range of materials, develop new processing methodologies to reclaim and process that material into a secondary raw material, and to think about how can we collaborate with our customers on both the consuming side and the generating side to make sure that their materials are handled in the most environmentally responsible manner.
John: Understood. For our listeners and viewers who just joined us, we’ve got Jim Keefe with us today. He’s the EVP and group publisher of Recycling Today Media Group. To find Jim and his great colleagues, please go to www.recyclingtoday.com. To find Jim, and also his colleagues, and their great new battery recycling conference, please go to www.batteryrecyclingconference.com. We’re going to get into the battery recycling conference in a second though. Talk a little bit about your vision on conferences and your expansion from just straight publishing into the other very great and impactful conferences that you’ve been holding now for years in plastics and other materials.
Jim: Sure. Thanks, John. We introduced our first conference in the recycling industry back in 2000. We’ve been doing it for a couple of years. We viewed the mission as parallel to our mission in the media products, right? At the end of the day, we’re content producers and we want to connect people in the industry. You want to facilitate networking and you want to produce content that helps provide the business intelligence that people need to effectively manage their businesses day-to-day. The event platform has allowed us to do that very effectively. Today, we publish or produce, I should say, The Paper and Plastics Recycling Conference. We do that both in Europe and in North America. We produce the MRF Operations Forum, which is for operators of material recovery facilities. Those facilities, just like your electronics recycling plants, have become more and more technologically advanced. Operators are thinking everyday, “How do I optimize this technology? How do I deal with the changing material stream and ensure that we’re recovering all of the material that we can possibly recover that passes through our plants?” The operations form was a natural extension. We have also introduced an event for the scrap metal business called Scrap Expo, which allows people to operate machinery on site, be able to understand what’s the newest greatest technology, what are the advantages of one type of equipment over another, for their particular processing operation. As you’ve suggested, we are just about to launch the first of our Battery and Critical Metals Recycling Conference. We’re very excited about that.
John: Why now? What was your vision for this conference and why the timing for launching it this year?
Jim: It’s really twofold. The battery power and stored power is proliferating very, very rapidly.
Jim: As we look at the movement towards decarbonization and people thinking about, “How do we reduce the environmental footprint?”, it’s not just individual consumers. It’s also operators of fleets, truck fleets, as well as many other pieces of equipment and devices. We all think about the cell phones we use in our day-to-day lives, the PCs, all of those devices rely upon stored power. In fact, greeting cards today have stored power in them. It’s just everywhere. It truly is everywhere. With that, comes a responsibility. One is, listen, at end-of-life, those materials are dangerous. If they are improperly managed, they can damage our environment very, very severely, right?
Jim: One of the things I always think about is the old saying that we don’t inherit the Earth from our parents. We borrow it from our children, right? We’ve got to think about the proper environmental management of end-of-life stored power, right? It just is critical because the polluting impact these batteries can have is dramatic. The other area is is safety. If you look at the environmental services business, where we are, as an industry, are sort of forced to handle end-of-life stored power, we are seeing, frankly, a plague of fires almost everyday in plants across the nation caused by batteries that are improperly disposed of and get into a material stream where they don’t belong. That’s a real danger to human life and to property. We need to put processes in place to safeguard human life and property. Another area is the natural resources that go into producing batteries. They are finite. They are difficult to mine. They’re expensive to mine. They have a huge carbon footprint when you do that mining activity. We have an obligation to think about, “How do we devise the systems and methodologies to recover those minerals and materials at the end of their useful life so that we can repurpose them back into new batteries and stored power?” Those factors kind of all came together to say, “Now’s the time. We need to take action and we need to help bring the industry together to talk about strategies, methodologies, and technologies that we need to make this happen.”
John: The conference is upcoming in June. It’s on June 12th and 13th in Atlanta, Georgia. Why Atlanta, a fascinating, wonderful, great city? I haven’t been to a conference there in recent years. Of course, I’m coming to this great conference because I see the big importance of it. I’m bringing a team of ERI executives there as well. Why did you choose Atlanta? Share that a little bit.
Jim: One of the biggest reasons is Atlanta is really the heart of the newly emerging battery belt in this country.
Jim: We have a very rapidly developing technology belt for production of all kinds of batteries. Whether it’s EV batteries, huge amount of EV battery production capacity is being built in the Southeastern US. But the truth is, it starts at the Ohio Valley and it pulls all the way down into the southeastern states. Atlanta’s kind of the heart of that. It made a lot of sense from that perspective. A beautiful thing about Atlanta is it’s a city with a wonderful airport, one of the largest in the world. It makes it very easy for for people to get in and out of the city. The air transport is a key piece. We’re really thrilled to be in the Buckhead District of Atlanta for this launch that will be on June 12th and 13th, right in the Buckhead District of Atlanta. It’s a beautiful area. We’ll have a great speaker faculty with a wonderful program.
John: For those who want to sign up, they could sign up right on your website, right, www.batteryrecyclingconference.com? I’m on that site now. People can go to that site and sign up to come to your conference right on that website, right?
Jim: Absolutely. There’s full information on the event from the program that will happen. We’ll kick off on the afternoon of the 12th with a meet-and-greet welcome reception just for people to begin their networking opportunities. We’ll begin on the morning of the 13th with our opening keynote and we’ll have a power pack program that will run them throughout the day.
John: I got it. What insights will your attendees- What do you want them to come away with by attending the conference? What’s your goal for this first important conference that you’re putting on in the battery and critical metals recycling sector?
Jim: I think that there are several things. The first, we would say, is to understand the dangers that exist in the business, right? There are real dangers that are out there.
Jim: If we don’t manage this material stream in a very particular way, we set ourselves and our colleagues up for trouble. We really want to cover things like transportation. How do we do that safely? We’re also going to delve into topics like collection. How do we manage and create collection infrastructure? Particularly, again, these batteries are becoming ubiquitous. They’re in everything. How do consumers know what they are? How do they know what to do with them? Public education and creating collection infrastructure is going to be pivotal. That’s going to be a topic of one of our sessions as well. Then we’re going to delve into things, I kind of say it like, big batteries versus little batteries, right? We think of the batteries that are in our phones or in greeting cards or in other types of consumer electronics products versus the batteries that are in electric vehicles. These are very different types of stored power cells. We’re going to delve into both sides of that and really, John, our hope is to create a dialogue between those who produce those batteries, those who produce the products that those batteries power, and those who then manage those products at the end of their useful lives so that we can create a bridge through which these industries, various industry silos, can communicate and can build infrastructure. As I’ve shared, there’s also a commercial opportunity for people in this market space. Things like lithium and all of the other materials that go into batteries are very, very expensive and very, very finite, raw materials. Again, helping the industry think about, “How do we capture, refine and redeploy these resources?” truly does present a commercial opportunity to not only entrepreneurs but current industry participants.
John: True and I love- I’m on your site, like I said. For those listeners who want to go there and sign up for this important conference, go to www.batteryrecyclingconference.com. The mix of speakers you have is fascinating but I think it’s great because you give such a breath of experience to the industry in terms of John Kelly, who’s the COO of Cirba Solutions. Then you have a lawyer there, George Kirchner from Wiley Rein. Then you have Dan Fitzgerald from Stanley Black & Decker, Julius Hess from Regency Technologies, Eric Frederickson and our friend, Leo Raudys, from Call2Recycle. These are industry experts and specialists. People will come and really get to hear from real leaders in this industry from all different perspectives. Ryan Fogelman, another important person in our industry, from Fire Rover, who has some of the best technology in fire prevention and suppression when it comes to the dangers that lurk within lithium ion batteries and other batteries that we all have to touch and handle, and like you said, have become ubiquitous to our lives. It’s so wonderful that you’ve covered a breath of spectrum of speakers that have real expertise and real knowledge that the audience can benefit from. That’s great.
Jim: We also have people like Roger Lin, who’s developing battery recycling capacity, right?
Jim: I think the things that Ascend Elements are doing are quite interesting. We have industry experts like John Gross, who will talk about what the impact of the battery business on the copper markets is, and how do copper market participants think about that? We have people on the panel, like Bobby Triesch from SA Recycling.
Jim: A lot of people may not be aware that Bobby Triesch’s grandfather is often attributed with inventing the automobile shredder.
Jim: Bobby brings a lifetime of experience with dealing with ELVs or end-of-life vehicles and setting up the infrastructure. It used to be that cars were abandoned at the end of their lives and people didn’t know what to do with them. Bobby’s grandfather, Alton Newell, was one of the pioneers in that space. Well, I’m selling Bobby short because he also has been a pioneer and SA Recycling has been a pioneer in handling internal combustion engine vehicles at the end of their lives. Now, they’re tasked with thinking about, what do we do with EVs at the end of their useful lives? These are experts in systems and processes and procedures, and they also represent, and this is an important part of what I was sharing earlier, across section of the industries that are involved in this issue, in this need that our society has.
John: Well, it truly isn’t linear. As you said, it’s circular in its approach. In the need to responsibly recycle these materials, you have to have a macro view and understanding. I love the fact that you have the copper expert there because copper is such an important part of not only the recycling industry but now, as we all know, it’s powering the whole shift to EVs and the whole electrification of our new economy. Copper is one of those critical metals that we all need to keep our eye on and learn more about. Having an expert in that is so smart and so helpful.
Jim: We’ve also brought in people from Benchmark Materials. We’re going to have one of their top analyst. Benchmark is really the global leader in looking critical elements. They look at all of the critical elements that are demanded from the battery and stored power business and analyze what the supply of those materials look like, what’s the demand of those, what is the demand trend on those materials, what does it look like in terms of the battery market with respect to growth in battery production, how will that impact the demand for these materials, where do these materials come from? Having an analyst from Benchmark on the faculty of speakers will also help our attendees really walk away with a level of insight and perspective that they’re probably not capturing in other places. If you look at the audience- I’m sorry, the speaker faculty as diverse as Black & Decker, one of the largest metals recycling companies in the country, right?
Jim: We have some of the largest battery recyclers in the country and we have very large battery producers. It’s going to provide a very wide range of perspective to those who take the time to attend to make the investment of their time and resources.
John: Well Jim, like I said, I’m going to be there. My team is going to be there. We’re excited to be there.
Jim: We’re looking forward to having you.
John: Yes, this is going to be a very important conference. Again, for our listeners and viewers, if you don’t get Recycling Today Magazine, which I’ve received since I’ve started ERI 17 or 18 years ago, please go to www.recyclingtoday.com and subscribe. To go sign up for this battery recycling conference, go to www.batteryrecyclingconference.com. I’m going to be there. ERI’s going to be there. All the great speakers that we just mentioned are going to be there. And of course, Jim Keefe, my good friend, is going to be there. Jim, thanks for spending time with us today on the Impact podcast. You’re always welcome back here. You’re an OG and a legend in the recycling industry.
Jim: I don’t know about that.
John: It’s my great privilege and it’s my pleasure to call you a friend and to be a colleague in this industry. You’ve been a great inspiration to me. Again, thanks for all you do and thanks for launching this new and very important battery recycling conference upcoming in Atlanta on June 12th and 13th.
Jim: Thanks for having me, John. We sure appreciate it and we really appreciate all the contributions you make to the recycling industry and all of the great things that ERI has done for the electronics recycling space. Thank you.
John: This episode of the impact podcast is brought to you by CO2.com. Companies today are trying to figure out how to achieve high quality climate credentials. CO2.com is the easy button for any business to go beyond offsetting and fund truly impactful projects across carbon, nature, and community. CO2 provides verified metrics that can be used in reporting and messaging. Have confidence in demonstrating your climate leadership. Go to CO2.com to access quality climate credentials you can trust on the road to net zero and nature positive. This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity focused hardware destruction company in the United States, and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.