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A Century of Recycled Material Specifications Help the World’s Manufacturing Supply Chain

ISRI Specs Promote Trade, Provide Common Language for Global Recycling Community

(Washington, DC) – Each year over $100 billion of recycled scrap commodities are traded in the U.S. and around the globe – including paper, plastics, steel, copper, and aluminum, as well as glass, tires, and electronics. For the past century, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ (ISRI) specifications published in the Scrap Specification Circular (commonly known as the ISRI Specs) have guided these transactions.

“Recycling is a commodity-based industry that provides manufacturers around the globe with valuable feedstock.  The terminology and standards in the hundreds of ISRI Specs provide a common language for the global recycling community that allows everyone – regardless of their spoken language or geographical distance from their trading partner — to immediately understand what is being shipped and what tolerances are allowable in the material,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “Recycled materials are lower in cost, more energy efficient, and environmentally friendly compared to virgin feedstock. And as manufacturers are looking to increase the amount of recycled content in products, specifications are becoming increasingly important.”

First published in December 1919, ISRI's scrap specifications have become the universal language for scrap buyers and sellers in domestic and international trades. Similar to what grades are to gasoline, ISRI specifications for the last 100 years have been providing the understanding of the quality or composition for each scrap commodity. 

Specifications are designed to reflect what is actually being traded in the market. As new products are developed, specifications are created or adjusted. For example, specifications are currently under review to address new technology used in food packaging. ISRI Specs help facilitate product recycling and market development.

“Specifications also help promote international trade,” continued Wiener. “They are used as the basis for transactions in countries such as China, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Korea, Pakistan, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, and Brazil. In fact, import regulations in India, Australia, and the U.S. that require scrap shipments align with ISRI Specs to differentiate valuable recyclable commodities from unacceptable material.”

The Scrap Specifications Circular contains guidelines for nonferrous scrap, ferrous scrap, glass cullet, paper stock, plastic scrap, tire scrap, and electronics scrap. In 2017, guidelines for inbound curbside recyclables were added to address scrap commodities being collected and processed by material recovery facilities (MRFs). ISRI regularly updates the circular, working hard to make sure the specifications to meet changing market and consumer demands. The process to add, amend, or withdraw a specification is open and transparent. Any person may file a request with ISRI. The relevant Division and/or Committee comprised of ISRI members, in consultation with buyers, brokers, and consumers, will review and make a recommendation to the full ISRI Board of Directors. Following a public comment period, the Board acts on the recommendation. A public notice is then issued and a 30 day public comment window is open to any individual to file an appeal before the specification change is implemented.

More information on the ISRI Specs can be found in this fact sheet.

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