American Recycler News, Inc.

 

Partnership formed to teach the science of scrap

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) and Jason Learning have partnered to inspire America’s students to think about careers in the scrap and recycling business, and give them the scientific and technical background that such jobs require.

ISRI is supporting Jason Learning’s mission of educating America’s youth in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) by together developing curriculum that uses scrap and recycling as a real-world model.

The industry ultimately needs to employ more professionals like Tracey Blaszek, a high school Honor Society leader who got an engineering degree and took a standard industrial job. When she was recruited for a team that would constantly be learning new things, Blaszek said she was “sucked right in.”

Today, she is compliance director at Synergy Recycling in Atlanta, Georgia, part of the electronics recycling industry that has seen about $2 billion worth of business in 2001 grow to $20 billion in 2011.

Like the engineers who invent electronic devices such as computers and flat-screen TVs, Blaszek and Synergy Recycling must constantly invent and innovate ways to reuse valuable components of technology, such as precious metals, memory chips, and even basic materials such as steel and plastic. Blaszek makes sure that they do it in a legal, safe and environmentally responsible manner.

Mike Biddle, a trained scientist who once specialized in traditional polymer research was frustrated by the incredible amount of plastic the modern world wastes – just 10 percent of plastic is recycled vs. 90 percent of metals – began tinkering in his garage and invented a cheap and incredibly energy-efficient plant that recycles any kind of plastic.

“The best thing that ever happened to me was that I spent time on math and science in school,” he said. “It has paid huge dividends to me.”

“Science teaches you how the world works,” said Biddle. “It’s easier to see what the problems are in the first place and the possible solutions to them if you have a basic knowledge of science.”

More than 20 years after he launched MBA Polymers and grew it into a worldwide company to separate and refine plastic for reuse, Biddle is still excited about what he does.

The U.S. scrap and recycling industry totaled $90 billion in revenues in 2012, and exported $27.8 billion in scrap commodities, representing nearly 2 percent of the country’s exports.

Along with the economic benefits, the industry helps steward the environment, processing 75.2 million metric tons of scrap steel and iron, 46.4 million tons of paper, 728,000 tons of plastic bottles and 4.4 million tons of electronics.

Every ton of recycled steel uses 56 percent less energy than making a ton of new steel. Recycling electronics keeps toxic lead, mercury and other substances out of landfills and aquifers.

According to ISRI, the industry needs people trained in science, engineering and technology to invent and perfect new processes to recycle even more of our waste, and to build the machines to get it done.

As part of their collaboration, ISRI members will invite school classes studying the Jason “STEM” curriculum to visit scrap yards and recycling facilities, see their work in action, and learn how what many call “junk” is actually a valuable resource, as well as a real-life science experiment.

The visits will be the culmination of a standards-based curriculum module developed by Jason Learning and ISRI to education students about multiple scientific, technological and engineering disciplines and how they are applied in a real-world industry.

The innovative collaboration of Jason and ISRI will provide a prominent platform to raise awareness of the need for effective STEM education for our students to inspire them to be our society’s future leaders.