Though he doesn’t often lead facility tours, Chip DeJean showed Louisiana Lt. Gov. William “Billy” Nungesser around Port Allen, La.-based Louisiana Scrap Metal Recycling during the October ISRI Gulf Coast Region Fall Board Meeting. “I think it went very well,” DeJean says. “Billy and his team were very inquisitive and had no idea of the scale of the recycling operation including the capital, the staffing, and complexities involved. They asked a lot of questions and were very supportive of the business in general.”
Nungesser began his relationship with the recycling industry in 2017 when he attended the ISRI2017 Convention and Exposition in New Orleans. DeJean recalls Nungesser was struck by the size and amount of equipment in the exhibit hall. After that visit, Nungesser met with a group of Louisiana recyclers to learn how his office could help recycling businesses in the state. Since then, DeJean says Nungesser and his staff continue to check in with recyclers to ask if there’s anything they need help with.
The Gulf Coast Region nominated Nungesser for the 2021 Recycling Impact Award. Presented by the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA) and sponsored by ISRI, the award is given annually to an NLGA member who is committed to working within a state, region, and/or communities to positively affect resource conservation and recycling.
“When Danielle Waterfield [ISRI’s chief policy officer] came to us asking for nominations, we looked at our region and asked our membership who they wanted to nominate,” says Alton Schaubhut, vice president of the Gulf Coast Region and marketing manager of Dallas-based CMC Recycling. Schaubhut presented Nungesser with the award at the 2021 NLGA Annual Meeting in Point Clear, Ala. At the meeting, the two got to talking and Schaubhut told Nungesser about the Gulf Coast Region’s upcoming meeting in October. “I told him we were going to be in Baton Rouge for the meeting, and how it would be a nice opportunity for him to meet the board members who nominated him for the award,” Schaubhut recalls.
Once Nungesser expressed his interest, the Gulf Coast Region board decided to set up a facility tour followed by a fundraising lunch for Nungesser on Oct. 15. DeJean volunteered his yard for the tour because it was close to the meeting site, L’Auberge Casino Hotel Baton Rouge.
On the morning of the tour, 28 people, including Nungesser, his staff, and ISRI members from across the region walked through Louisiana Scrap Metal Recycling. Providing what he called a “back-of-the-house” tour, DeJean showed the lieutenant governor how his facility conducts transactions and the regulatory steps involved. “[Nungesser] saw how facilities record all the pertinent information of transactions like driver’s licenses and license plate numbers,” says Schaubhut, who attended the tour.
DeJean showed Nungesser office operations, how the facility turns the scales, and how the company records customer purchases. “We took them through the whole process, from how we weigh the material on our scales to when customers get paid, making sure their licenses are presented, [and] how that information is documented and archived on the computer,” DeJean says. “That information is readily accessible for customers and if there’s an investigation, we can pull up pictures and videos for law enforcement. Nungesser was amazed we went into that level of detail for customers.”
Nungesser had the opportunity to see the process of loading barges, how staff maintains the facility, and how materials are stored and separated. DeJean remembers Nungesser was surprised recycling facilities separate ferrous metals by different grades of iron. “He was amazed there was more to it than just throwing everything into a pile and sending it off to a mill,” DeJean says.
As Nungesser’s understanding of recycling grew during the walkthrough, so did his sense of the industry’s work to prevent catalytic converter theft. “He saw that we’re helping law enforcement with this issue,” DeJean says. The lieutenant governor came away wanting to help Louisiana recyclers develop effective catalytic converter theft legislation that wouldn’t negatively affect them.
“He wants to help us sponsor legislation for effective scrap metal laws that are less restrictive for good actors and have better enforcement,” DeJean explains. “He wants to bring all the stakeholders together to develop legislation that works for everyone, making it a positive experience for the industry and the state.” In addition to the problem of catalytic converter theft, DeJean, Schaubhut, and the other recyclers shared some of the industry’s ongoing concerns with Nungesser such as shipping and container problems.
Schaubhut felt the lieutenant governor left with a better understanding of the recycling industry, its work, and its needs. “[Nungesser] got to see a well-run and organized operation,” Schaubhut says. “He got to see our cooperation with law enforcement, the regulatory steps we take, the good housekeeping, and the environmental issues we’re involved in.”
Conducting facility tours for lawmakers allows recyclers the opportunity to tell the industry’s story. “We have to be part of our own narrative,” DeJean says. “We have to take more control of saying, ‘This is who we are and what we do, and we’re a responsible and conscientious industry.’”
If lawmakers have the chance to walk through a recycling yard, get a sense of the operations, chat with staff, and understand the extent of the business, they’ll leave with more knowledge and be able to better support the industry. “We feel it’s important to get out in front of any issue and for lawmakers to know who we are before people come with their own ideas about us,” Schaubhut says. “[ISRI’s Gulf Coast region] has focused on being more involved with local government and communities as well as ensuring access to local lawmakers so they can see who we are and what we do.”
Though it may seem intimidating to engage with legislators, it helps to remember that they want to engage with constituents. “Lawmakers work for us,” Schaubhut notes. “They really want to engage us; they just don’t have a lot of time. So, we have to take the step for them, we have to lean in. Don’t get intimidated by the process. Reach out, talk to them about the impact you make in their community and the people you employ.”
DeJean agrees that even if it feels daunting, educating more lawmakers means a stronger voice for the industry. “With a stronger voice, the more impact you can have,” he says. “Even if you only develop a relationship with one person, one day that individual could become a big influence. It may feel out of your wheelhouse, but it’s so important to get involved with the legislature.”
He recommends starting by engaging on a very local level. “Show the local sheriff’s office or police department what you do and how you conduct your business. Let them know you’re a good player and a contributor to the community,” DeJean says.
Looking forward, Schaubhut hopes the Gulf Coast Region continues incorporating facility tours for local legislators into its annual meetings as a chance for ISRI members to engage with lawmakers. “[The Gulf Coast Region] has discussed moving our future fall board meetings to states that requested us to do more outreach. For example, if Mississippi would like to show a legislator around a local recycling yard, we can easily have our fall board meeting in Mississippi.”
Having the tour in conjunction with the meeting meant ISRI members throughout the region could attend the tour and get face time with Louisiana’s lieutenant governor. “Mr. Nungesser not only got to see a local scrap yard, but he also got to see a lot of recyclers from other states and listen to them, like me coming from Texas,” Schaubhut says. “We hope to use this going forward as a template for ways states can connect with legislators and use it as a vehicle of engagement.”
Featured image courtesy of Louisiana Scrap Metal Recycling. Caption: Left to right: Chip DeJean, Louisiana Scrap Metal Recycling, Lt. Gov. William Nungesser, Nidhi Turakhia, Allied Alloys, and Alton Schaubhut, CMC Recycling. Body image courtesy of Louisiana Scrap Metal Recycling. Caption: At Louisiana Scrap Meta Recycling’s barge loading dock on the Intracoastal Waterway. Left to right: Chip Hunter, EMR, Lt. Gov. William Nungesser, William Lensmyer, EMR (back facing), Chip DeJean, Louisiana Scrap Metal Recycling, Gigi Gebhardt, Rise Equipment, and Julio Guichard, Nungesser’s assistant.