Ladies and gentlemen,
This year, BIR has been commemorating a significant milestone in its history, its 75th anniversary. A momentous occasion that bears testament to our predecessor’s dedication and tireless efforts. Together, they laid the groundwork for a world where recycling is not seen as a burden, but as an opportunity for innovation and growth, a cornerstone in sustainability and an essential cog in the circular economy.
Our history is well documented in the BIR publication, ‘The Story of BIR 1948-2023 - Uniting the recycling world for 75 years’. One of the booklet’s photos it my favourite. It captures the milestone moment during BIR's 70th anniversary celebration in Barcelona in 2018, where seven world Presidents of BIR stood together on stage. What makes this photo special for me is the fact that, prior to my election as your President, each of these esteemed gentlemen at different times over the years —Bjorn Grufman, Dominique Maguin, Fernando Duranti, Anthony Bird OBE, Barry Hunter, Tom Bird, and Ranjit Baxi—took the time to offer words of encouragement to a woman in this predominantly male industry to reach for the sky. They believed in me and expressed their hope to witness the shattering of the BIR glass ceiling one day. And for this I thank them most sincerely for their wisdom and their leadership.
But how did BIR come into being. Let’s take a moment to reflect, on the challenges we have overcome, the progress we have made, and the collective wisdom we have gained.
In the 1940s, an era when the export of ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metals was prohibited in most European countries, a significant event took place in Amsterdam. On March 18, 1948, esteemed recyclers from Belgium and the Netherlands gathered to celebrate the remarkable 125th anniversary of the world's oldest, at that time, scrap recycling company.
This momentous occasion led to the establishment of the Benelux recyclers association, founded with the primary objective of reinstating free international trade in secondary raw materials. From this noble aspiration, the Bureau of International Recycling was born.
BIR held its first official meeting in June 1948, during which Emile Savigner was elected as the organisation's inaugural president. It was formed initially as an international association comprising of national federations. To effectively represent the major materials traded globally BIR established four divisions: ferrous and steel scrap, non-ferrous metals scrap, paper and textiles.
Associations from Luxembourg and France join its ranks at this meeting, followed by Italy in October 1948 and Great Britain in early 1949, reinforcing the collective efforts towards international cooperation and the global promotion of recycling. During the 1950s other countries applied for membership including, the USA, Switzerland, Sweden, Federal republic of Germany and Czechoslovakia.
It was also decided that BIR members would meet twice a year in capital cities or commercial hubs. BIR conventions were then as they are today, places to do business and to discuss trading issues.
BIR and its first members managed to secure the opening of frontiers to recycling commodities in what was to become the EU . They also began to open up trade to non- European destinations which was achieved first in the Netherlands when in 1979 Dutch scrap exports to the whole world were legalised and within a short time all European Community members followed suit.
It is unbelievable that now at the time of BIRs 75th birthday, the achievements of our founders and forefathers are under threat with the noticeable trend of deglobalisation. The increasing trade barriers pose a significant challenge to our industry. BIR is actively addressing this in various fora and has consistently campaigned for the free movement of recycled materials to avoid shortages in certain geographical areas and surpluses in others.
Whe I look at our members, I see successful, innovative , accomplished people. Despite facing various challenges, you have all managed to achieve extraordinary things. Now that we are gathered here together, I am filled with a sense of wonder about what we can accomplish collectively. It is undeniable that with our combined determination and abilities, we have the potential to become an unstoppable force.
As the recycling space becomes ever more crowded with a wide range of vested often conflicting interests, a strong BIR voice is more important than ever before to bring reason amid the noise and to deliver its well reached and pro recycling message.
In line with the concept of the Circular economy that puts recycling at its heart, BIR continues to actively support the swapping of a linear, throwaway society for one based on resource efficiency and conservation. Through free and fair trade, BIR believes consumption of recycled materials should be optimised, displacing as much primary raw material as possible to bring huge environmental gains in the form of resource maximisation, energy savings and reduced CO2 emissions.
BIR’s standing is such that it has become a staple presence wherever important environmental debates are taking place at the supranational level, be it at the United Nations, the OECD or elsewhere. Only recently, BIR has been afforded a pivotal role in the Basel Convention Plastic Waste Partnership and has been involved at the ground floor of a United Nations initiative to draft a new Global Plastics Treaty. Being a member of BIR is something to be extremely proud of and I would like us to take a moment to thank our dedicated secretariat, Elisabeth, Antoine, Michele, Raïssa, Katia, Alev, Dasa, Cristina who under the leadership of our Director General, Arnaud Brunet represent us so eminently. Let’s please give them a round of applause.
Strong growth in membership, the success of our conventions and our subsequent robust financial situation is enabling BIR leadership to make significant investments, strengthen our secretariat and increase our advocacy efforts with unwavering support from our National Association members. Currently we are working on a general position paper on Extended Producer Responsibility together. We are making substantial progress in our PR and communication efforts, under the leadership of newly appointed communications chair, Ibrahim Aboura and have kickstarted a new study of the Environmental Benefits of Recycling.
The recycling industry was once described as one of the world’s best kept secrets. Today, however, no international or supranational body concerned with the economic and environmental welfare of the planet can afford to ignore recycling. The secret is finally out. Our global organisations story has already covered three quarters of a century and has many more chapters to be written.
Together, let us explore novel strategies, cutting-edge technologies, and sustainable solutions that will shape the way we approach recycling. Let us engage in fruitful discussions, forge partnerships, and share our experiences. We are here to collaborate, to build bridges, to learn from one another, and to empower the world with knowledge.
To facilitate this, I am forming a new committee, which will be co-chaired by Murat Bayram and Caroline Craenhaels. We have some very exciting things planned so watch out for updates about this in the coming months, as we embark upon the next chapter of BIRs remarkable journey.