In the first of our series on Women in the Recycling Industry, Davis Index’s Huban Kasimi spoke with Nidhi Turakhia, Partner and Executive Vice President at Allied Alloys, a stainless steel and nickel recycler headquartered in Houston, Texas. Turakhia shares her journey, outlook, and business values.
As a founder of Allied Alloys, what is your vision for your company and the US recycling industry as a whole?
My family had the opportunity to join Allied Alloys in 2009 as a partner. Its founder, Mitch Greenberg, began Allied Alloys in 2006 when he saw the need for such a company in a niche market with only two other players in the market at that time.
With my dad and Mitch, we worked hard during the 2008 recession, and today, we are proud of the fact that not only were we able to turn the company around and become profitable, but we did so without laying off a single person. Moreover, we were able to keep our doors open when it felt like the entire world around us was crashing.
The US economy is very strong today, and I see a lot of potential. The possibilities in stainless steel and nickel are endless because these metals are used extensively. As long as we are constantly manufacturing and growing, the industry’s outlook is positive. Right now, everyone’s talking about a mild recession. We might be in one, but in my opinion, it’ll be clearer within the next 12 months, around Q2 2024.
Still, we have a huge advantage of being local. We can purchase from Canada, Mexico, South America, and other Latin American nations. We also export to Asia, especially India and Japan. As long as these markets are strong, we’re in a good place.
We are witnessing a whirlwind of changes globally and have actually rewritten history. India, more than most, is becoming more and more competitive.
Could you give us an overview of some of Allied Alloys’ milestones since inception?
Our biggest milestone was acquiring the company in 2008, when it was a very scary time for our industry, and then turning it around to being not just profitable but also becoming an industry standard with a high reputation around the world.
During the pandemic, we were deemed an essential business and were open every single day, which meant that we did not have any layoffs. That is significant as we are a family business, and our employees are our priority.
Looking back, Allied Alloys coined the term ‘double crushed blended solids’ or ‘double crushed blended turnings solids.’ Today, our DCBT or DCBS is a global industry standard. To be that innovative 15 years ago is incredible! My father and Mitch are both brilliant entrepreneurs and were one of the first to market a stainless steel blended package to India.
What, according to you, is the average cost (per year) to keep a recycling business going?
This is an interesting question because recycling can be done in so many different ways. A typical facility can incur overheads and equipment costs in millions. But if you are a broker or indenting agent, you would have no overhead costs.
It is not an easy business to enter into, but we have always been agile. We continue to move quickly and are constantly revamping, looking for the next big opportunity, whether in technology or equipment. We call these our special projects. For example, we recently installed solar panels, and we are happy to announce that our main facility is now powered by solar energy.
We are a dynamic company as all the owners are right here, which enables us to make real-time decisions that are right for our company.
There are discussions about the need for more government support to encourage recycling initiatives in the US. What is your view?
There isn’t enough government support in the US. This is also one of the many aspects the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) is working on. I believe that one of the main reasons for the lack of official support is that our government representatives need more education and awareness about the industry.
ISRI has recently implemented a linguistics playbook that helps us convey the importance of recycling to local politicians.
Even though the Go Green concept has been around since the 1940s, the only way to raise awareness is through education. Several people shy away from recyclers because many are perceived negatively. Yet, it all comes down to your story and how you tell it.
What type of recycling policy changes would you like to see over the medium to long term?
Everyone is talking about Environmental Social Justice (ESJ). If local governments understand our industry, hopefully, that will curb the ESJ initiative they are trying to push. In some states, recycling yards are built in low-income households. The story that such facilities negatively impact community health is actually wrong.
Allied Alloys is surrounded by residences, and we are completely focused on ensuring we do not release harmful chromium or nickel into the air. If the government sees more companies like us and understands that we are not here to harm anyone and are recycling responsibly, it would lead to a conversation that can be a change for the better.
When it comes to technological innovations within the metals recycling industry, how do you rate the US against other countries?
The US is way more technologically advanced compared with other countries. Moreover, our innovations can be shared worldwide. If a company has the capability, technological overhauls are achievable and scalable.
The traditional view that all you need is a scale and forklift to be profitable has changed considerably. You need much more than that. At Allied Alloys, we haven’t ventured into EV battery recycling yet because that area is relatively new, and the technology has a long way to go before it can be commercialized sustainably.
Is there a process, solution, or equipment that you would like to develop/design or see launched?
I want to see technology that can prevent any recyclables from ending up in landfills.
What are your views about artificial intelligence (AI) in recycling processes?
AI is exciting, and I am not sure how this will affect our industry just yet because our industry is still a very hands-on and labor-intensive sector, so I cannot imagine replacing my employees with AI any time soon. However, I think we all will welcome the possibility of integrating AI as long as it complements and increases our efficiency.
I am curious to see what the future holds when it comes to AI, hoping one day there will be technology that will 100pc divert recyclable material from landfills. That will be a glorious day!
Can you highlight some of the challenges that US recyclers face in terms of managing costs and investments?
The biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining the right people. This is a human investment. It is also a little scary because, in the past, we have always recycled talent. This has a time limit, and it makes me ask, how do we educate the next generation? Why would they want to enter into our industry?
We want to make more people aware of our industry and track fresh recruits, otherwise, we might have a shortage of people on our hands in the next few years.
Allied Alloys and ISRI have been working on a workforce development program. It’s a great application to recruit good talent. It encompasses reaching out to local schools and teachers and promoting the recycling industry as a good career option for students when they graduate.
Allied Alloys has also sponsored the STEM program at a local high school right in our backyard to increase the exposure of STEM to the next generation, and we are hoping to do this every year as the results from this will be tremendous. Again, it is all about education.
If there is one aspect of the recycling industry that you would want to change, what would it be?
I would definitely like to see more women, more diversity, and young, untapped talent in our industry.
What would be your advice to women who have just joined this industry or are thinking of making their first foray into the recycling sector?
My advice would be to ‘stick with it.’ At first, this industry may not give you the right impression, but once you actually dig in and learn about the different products that can be recycled, you will fall in love with it.
Recycling’s growth potential is unlimited. Be it metals, paper, or plastics, there is everything that will spark your interest. Every aspect of an organization is covered, and there is so much to explore and learn.
The younger generation should be more educated and look past the ‘blue bin’ in their daily lives. That can generate more interest in a really dynamic industry. There was a time when we flew under the radar owing to environmental audits, but it is incredible to see mindsets changing for the better.
I’m hoping that one day, there will be a degree like a BA in recycling or a course to teach youngsters how to leverage AI in recycling processes.