The Next Generation of Recycling

Cohen USA

Cohen is one of North America’s largest ferrous and non-ferrous metal recycling companies, processing more than 1.25 million tons annually in over twenty facilities. The ISO certified company provides clients with full-service customized scrap management programs.

Time has a habit of reframing public perception. Sometimes this is due to technological advancements turning acceptable business practice into obsolete tasks which waste resources and time. On other occasions, a mindset can be shifted completely by social or professional breakthroughs to an extent that behaviours and attitudes, once deemed appropriate and acceptable, are completely flipped and the inverse becomes the status quo.

Take, for example, the concept of recycling. This industry has, in one form or another, been around for generations; the idea of reusing items again and again in various guises is certainly not new. However, the mindset of the public, in relation to this industry, has undergone dramatic sea-changes over the course of history.

One company has experienced these changes first hand, battling to overcome the challenges faced by the public’s perception of the industry. That company is Cohen, an entirely family owned and run company that first entered the business world in 1924.

The company has passed through four generations of the Cohen family and those four generations have highlighted the evolution of the business in a very real sense, taking the industry right through to the recycling model that exists today. Adam Dumes, General Manager of Cohen, explains how the model has changed over the past ninety years: “My great grandfather and his brother emigrated from Russia in the early 1900s, and when they founded the company in 1924 they had very little equipment – very little means – so essentially they had a cart that they pushed around and collected metals and textiles that were recyclable, to sell and make an income. In today’s world they would be referred to as peddlers,” shares Mr. Dumes.

“My grandfather then went to college, graduated from the University of Cincinnati, and entered the family business. At that point, the company was established and they had invested in some equipment. Essentially, what he was – and the terminology at the time – was a junkman. Eventually the transition came from calling it junk to scrap. Scrap is material that is recyclable, but it has value. To my uncle junk is a four letter word. Our product is scrap.”

Inherently, the model has remained similar. However, over time the public perception of recycling has changed how the company was viewed, and it is this current generation of the Cohen family that has overseen the transition to recycling. “What I have tried to do as the fourth generation is really embrace the core of our business, which is recycling,” says Mr. Dumes. “The last decade or so, the scrap metal industry has gotten a lot of negative publicity surrounding metal theft and pollution. The truth is that metal recycling does not cause pollution and metal recyclers are leading the charge to stop metal theft.”

Indeed, there is a very clear divide between the stereotypical rubbish dump which uses landfills to dispose of unwanted materials and the recycling model that reuses them. Mr. Dumes is quick to point out that the materials accepted by Cohen in its recycling centres need to meet a strict criteria. “Everything that we purchase from our customers, or take in, is recyclable. We do not buy anything that should be landfilled,” he says.

This outlook is not purely due to a financial perspective. Cohen takes great pride in the service that it provides for the benefit of the local community and the wider world. “It is our responsibility to educate the public and to facilitate recycling. Our vision as a company is to enable businesses and individuals to recycle safely, conveniently and responsibly. We provide these means because of the importance of sustainability to the environment. It is irresponsible not to think of future generations.”

Cohen does not just use terminology such as ‘sustainability’ and ‘responsibility’ in an attempt to garner a good reputation. The company is actively involved in the promotion and education of its local communities, facilitating this paradigm shift in favour of a responsible approach to the treatment of the environment. Mr. Dumes speaks very passionately about the need to educate future generations about the importance of sustainability. He sees a number of ways to approach this and says, “We are in the process of developing lesson plans in conjunction with our partners [at] the Natural History Museum in Cincinnati. We educate through partnerships and community involvement. We offer tours for any kind of organization; we attend all kinds of trade shows.”

The company values these partnerships very highly and sees them as an opportunity to connect with communities in a way that would be unattainable without the links. In addition to the Natural History Museum in Cincinnati, Cohen has close links to Ronald McDonald House and the Cincinnati Zoo. The partnerships allow the team to work with people who share common goals and philosophies.

This aspect of collaboration, Mr. Dumes feels, is mutually beneficial. “We partner with a lot of organizations that have the same values relating to the environment and sustainability in order to get the message across. We support those organizations, we sponsor those organizations and we consider them partners. It’s give and take; they are helping us communicate our message, helping us build brand awareness, and also working to curb ignorance within the population regarding things like, ‘What can I recycle?’ and, ‘How do I recycle it?’ That’s the biggest barrier. While we can educate through our website and our social media channels all day long, the Cincinnati Reds have 30,000 people coming to their game every night. They see our billboards and they talk about ‘What is recyclable?’”

With twenty locations nationwide and ninety years of history, Cohen is here to stay. The future of the business is expected to see a greater expansion and increase of market share in the areas it currently occupies as opposed to a major broadening or expansion of its geographical footprint. It is vital however, that education continues as well as options for communities to dispose responsibly of their electronic waste such as computers, cell phones and televisions. This is a major challenge and one that the company recognizes as the next leap forward for this generation.

“I don’t think we are interested in increasing our footprint unless it is through the electronics recycling side, maybe opening some more of those facilities,” explains Mr. Dumes. “The footprint is very strategic; our interest is gaining market share within our existing footprint. The scrap metal industry has had a tough time in the last few years due to commodity market conditions; to stay afloat is a challenge. We need to be innovative, cut costs wherever we can and to diversify our product lines.

“You have a huge, huge portion of the population in any country that is unaware of the scrap metal recycling industry. However, every single one of those people has electronics that become old or obsolete at some point. At that point, they are going to have to make a decision on what to do with it. Our mission is that to make sure it goes to a certified recycler like us, not a landfill.”

June 19, 2018, 8:05 AM EDT

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