Christine Gneiding, trader at Intrametco, arrived at the August 2022 National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Legislative Summit with two main goals. Like other ISRI members, she would spend a week in Denver advocating on behalf of the recycling industry to state policymakers and their staff. She also wanted to take in everything she could learn to help prepare for the 2023 summit scheduled to be in Indianapolis in her home state of Indiana.
“It was my second time attending the summit,” she says. “It’s a chance to see all the commodities ISRI members represent come together for one cause. ISRI staff, led by [Chief Policy Officer] Danielle Waterfield, really have the process down to a science.”
NCSL is a trade association for state legislators and their staff. The summit is its national convention where all 50 states and U.S. territories come together in one location. Other attendees include NCSL foundation sponsors, government officials, business representatives, educators, and others interested in public policy.
For ISRI, the summit is an opportunity to forge new connections with state legislators and deepen existing relationships. “Our objective is not only to educate legislators attending the summit, but also to demonstrate how vast the network is of resources and expertise within ISRI that is available to lawmakers,” Waterfield says. “They can’t be experts in every area, so we want them to be comfortable knowing they can turn to ISRI for information pertaining to recycling-related issues and we will put them in contact with local ISRI members in their states. We are building on a partnership that started more than 10 years ago.”
“ISRI has great name recognition at the summit,” Shine says. “Many legislators were familiar with our work.” That recognition is due to a decade-long partnership that ISRI has cultivated with NCSL and its members. “ISRI members come to the summit as the recycling industry to meet with state policymakers and advocate,” Waterfield says. “All commodities, all ISRI members, all united with one goal to advocate on behalf of the recycling industry.”
Like previous years, ISRI’s goal in Denver was to bring the recycling facility to life for legislators at their convention. Getting an up-close look into the world of recycling gives policymakers a better understanding of the industry so they can approach recycling-related legislation with a clear mindset.
“It’s an educational outreach,” Willcutts says. “I live and breathe recycling every day, but most people don’t. When they think about recycling it’s usually what they put in the bin. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of education that’s needed especially with legislators because they’re trying to introduce policy.”
ISRI’s educational approach at the summit is twofold: the ISRI booth in the general exhibit hall and the ISRI exhibit hall luncheon. The ISRI-sponsored exhibit hall luncheon consists of a meal served in a separate exhibit hall dedicated to recycling displays.
Recycling equipment and products span hundreds of square feet in the hall with luncheon tables alongside buffet tables for attendees to serve themselves. The event is a relaxed setting where recyclers can connect with legislators.
“Our members sit and eat a meal with legislators and share little about their work using any of the displays as prompts for discussion,” Waterfield says. “Through this process legislators get to know our members as their constituents.”
The ISRI booth connects the large-scale machinery and recycling equipment on display to everyday items that are familiar to attendees. Open throughout the summit and located at the exit of the luncheon hall, the booth serves as a welcome and information center for lawmakers to get follow-up information. ISRI members who staff the booth answer questions or help connect the dots for curious legislators. Most attendees depart with a token gift such as items derived from recycled materials or utilized in recycling facilities like the pocket magnet with contact information to remember ISRI.
During the luncheon, Shine chatted with legislators about his work and asked questions to get to know them better. “I got to know them on a personal level,” he says. “I asked about why they chose to run for office and about their day-to-day work.”
Shine didn’t have many opportunities before the summit to talk to legislators, so the opportunity was a learning experience. “I was watching more experienced ISRI members and staffers [throughout the day], and how they approached and talked to legislators,” he says.
Though advocating may seem intimidating, Willcutts has some tips for recyclers. “Take out the technical terms and jargon. Instead talking about Zorba or Zurik, use words like aluminum, stainless steel, and copper. Take a step back and think about when you started out in the industry. Think about what you learned on your first day and teach that to someone else.”
At the summit’s closing party, several legislators approached Gneiding with additional questions. “They saw me as an expert in my field,” she says. “We’re here to educate the public and legislators about what we do and our message; I’m proud to be part of that.”
Willcutts notes it’s important to get the message to legislators in advance of legislation. “If you’re advocating after something’s been drafted it’s usually too late,” she says. “Get to legislators early.” She did that during her conversation with Colorado Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera at the summit luncheon.
“Getting to talk to the lieutenant governor was important for me, being from Colorado,” Willcutts says. “I told her that we’re a family business and we’ve been around for years. If she has any questions about upcoming legislation, she could talk to us, and we’d help her find a solution that benefits everyone.”
Gneiding encourages ISRI members to volunteer at the summit. “It’s an incredible experience,” she says. “There were legislators from Indiana, but I also got to meet people from many different states.”
She’s excited for ISRI’s participation at the 2023 summit and hopes it’ll highlight Indianapolis. “There’s a real hometown feel to Indianapolis,” she says. “There are great places to eat and it’s got a fun nightlife so there’s plenty to do at the end of the day. I’m excited to share that experience with legislators next year and have our chapter host it and show what our little group can do.”
Photos Courtesy of ISRI.