Recycling Product News Logo

Q&A: John Sacco is changing the narrative around metal recycling

The metal recycling industry grapples with persistent misconceptions - most commonly, that scrap metal is junk. Recyclers' crucial role as raw material manufacturers is rarely recognized. At the heart of the issue lies the misunderstanding that recycled materials, particularly scrap metal, lack worth, when in reality they're precious commodities and the building blocks for critical elements of our daily lives.
John Sacco, president and owner of Sierra International Machinery, is a vocal advocate for reframing this narrative and fostering a more accurate understanding of the role played by the metal recycling industry. I recently caught up with Sacco to discuss key topics like regulatory challenges, the upcoming ISRI2024 Convention, and how the second season of Sierra's Repurposed docuseries is reshaping public perceptions of the benefit of the metals recycling sector. 

Repurposed showcases the intricate processes behind metal recycling.

Slone Fox: What initially drew you to the recycling industry? 

John Sacco: I was working in our family business where we had divisions of recycling and agri-packaging. When my father sold off the agri-packaging division, he wanted me to join in on the recycling side, but my start became more involved with selling shears and balers into the recycled materials market.

SF: How did the idea for the Repurposed docuseries come about? 

JS: The idea came about from years of talking about content creation that focuses on the frustration surrounding the image and misconceptions of our industry - that we're "junk" and "waste" when we're actually a raw material manufacturer for the mills. You look around and you say to yourself, "I wish somebody would do something about this," and then you realize that you are somebody.

SF: What impact do you hope Repurposed will have, and what impact have you already noticed?

JS: The impact that I'm hoping for is changing the narrative of how we're seen in the community. It's my hope that we are seen as an essential industry because, without us, nothing gets made in America. You can't have our infrastructures, our automotives, our highways, our military, our hospitals, our schools, our harvesting equipment for farms, food plants, or the electrical grid. Without the recycled materials industry, we don't have those luxuries that we're so used to in our daily lives.

People outside our industry are finally beginning to understand what our industry is about. I've had lawmakers in Washington, D.C., tell me that they didn't realize how responsible our industry is for building the products we use on an everyday basis. People are beginning to see that this industry is truly essential in that we are not waste and not junk. They're seeing that all these things that are being made from our raw materials can't possibly come from junk or waste.  


The labour shortage can make it difficult to find qualified people to work in the recycling industry.

SF: Can you discuss a particular episode from Repurposed that resonated strongly with your audience?    

JS: There are a couple of episodes I would say had a major impact. Definitely episode three from season one. The cinematography of steelmaking - showing it coming from recycled iron, going to the furnace, and then seeing the new steel come out - I think that really resonated with people to where they can understand what that material is actually turning into. For season two, I also think that episode three was a great one. Viewers were able to witness rebar going into the fabrication of buildings, highways, and stadiums. However, the series just as a whole, really drives home the image and the necessity of our industry. 

SF: What misconceptions about the industry influence your personal commitment to becoming a more vocal advocate for recycling and sustainability through podcasts, social media, etc?

JS: Because so many people think what we do is "waste" or "junk" - something that has no value, the government wants to heavily regulate us because they don't believe or understand what our industry is. That's what's most influenced me to change the narrative. Coming from a metal recycler and an equipment provider, we won't be able to exist in the future if we don't build a strong industry now. We need to stop the erroneous regulations against this industry. That, quite frankly, is an absolute necessity. 

If you think about it, our food can't be harvested and sent to a food manufacturing plant. Any of those structures that are processing food will have a foundation that has rebar, and rebar comes from recycled iron. Seventy-two percent of all new steel in America is made from recycled iron, and the high level of copper content in the electrical grid turns the lights on. For example, you can't have a hospital running without electricity. And the aluminum that goes into so much of the auto industry. . .without our industry, there isn't enough virgin material that can be processed to be put into all these products that we use on an everyday basis.

The Repurposed docuseries aims to change public perceptions of the metal recycling sector.

SF: In your experience, how does the public's perception of metal recycling vary across different demographics?

JS: Across demographics, the lack of knowledge is pretty consistent. What I think is most interesting is that the more affluent demographic has less of an understanding because so many people in the lower demographic actually make a living off of recycling paper and metals. But generally speaking, there's just an overall lack of understanding of what our industry does.

Sierra's content is created for the recycled materials industry to start with. But as for diverse audiences, we found that because of our creativity in the fact that we don't follow too many rules, we garner a lot of audiences outside our industry as well. We just like to have fun and the market tells us immediately whether we're putting stuff out there that's good or not so good.

SF: With the ISRI convention coming up - and as someone who's a regular attendee - can you reflect on how this convention has evolved over the years? 

JS: The convention has evolved because technology has evolved in the way we can present ideas to an audience. ISRI has changed because there are more people producing products for the recycled materials industry, so there are a lot more things out there that we could use in our own facility, and because we're a supplier of equipment to the industry, we have new innovative ideas we want to get out there and show the other recyclers that come to this convention what it's about.

SF: Looking ahead, what do you think will be the most significant challenges and opportunities for the metals recycling industry? 

JS: One of the biggest challenges is labour. Although our industry provides tremendous opportunity and personal growth across the board, the labour market is very tight, and finding qualified people to come and work in our industry is difficult. The other challenge, in the end, is the lack of understanding of what our industry does and the erroneous regulations that come about that hinder our industry due to the cost it puts on us to stay in business. We need a more collaborative situation with regulatory agencies to work together to find solutions for products to be recycled, get them processed, and get them back into the hands of consumers.

Company info

1620 E. Brundage Lane
Bakersfield, CA
US, 93307


Read more

Related Articles