At the Helm: ReMA Chair Colin Kelly Shares His Vision for the Association

May 22, 2024, 10:51 AM
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Rachel Bookman
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Colin Kelly
Colin Kelly

ReMA Chair Colin Kelly

Holding the distinction of being the first-ever Chair of the Recycled Materials Association (ReMA) under its new name, Colin Kelly is ready for the job. And while he may be new to the role of chair, Colin is no novice when it comes to leadership roles and galvanizing others into action.

Prior to joining the recycled materials industry, Colin owned restaurants and worked with the Everett, MA Chamber of Commerce. While with the Chamber, Colin received an opportunity that would lead him to where he is today.

ReMA News recently spoke with Colin to discuss his start in the industry, priorities as chair, and what he is most looking forward to over the next two years.

You have an interesting background, even before being involved in the recycled materials industry. Can you tell us about it?

Kelly: I was not born in this industry. I started in a retail setting, working for a supermarket chain. And then after my college years, I decided to go into the restaurant business. At the same time that I owned some restaurants, I was on the city council in Everett, Massachusetts. I did that for most of my adult life. Then it became evident that I wanted to do something else, like maybe retire early. I was semi-retired, doing some work for the Chamber of Commerce, when I got the opportunity to join Radius Recycling (then Schnitzer Steel) as their New England director of government and public affairs, a position that they had never had before. Radius felt that there was an opportunity to talk to the community about what we did. We did some outreach with the community to explore the processes that we had and the products that we recycled. And from that, it’s just been a roller coaster ride of working in this industry.

What made you interested in working in the recycled materials industry?

Kelly: Recycling was always very interesting to me. As a young city councilor, I helped establish Everett’s first recycling program for the community. It started off taking place two Saturdays a month for a few years, and then the city took it over because recycling was becoming more and more popular. I’ve always explained the value of recycling to my children. When this opportunity came up and they approached me, I took it. And from that opportunity, I said to my company, I’ve got to learn about the industry. And one of my mentors at Radius said, well, go to a ReMA (then ISRI) meeting. So I went to a New England ReMA chapter meeting, and I left that meeting as a candidate for vice president. I was honored that they thought I could do it, but I knew I had more to learn. Then I went to my first national ReMA meeting, and that’s where I really started to get more involved. And 17 years later, here we are.

Do you think that your background in community engagement and the restaurant industry provided unique preparation for your role as chair of ReMA, and bringing people together?

Kelly: I’ve always maintained that bringing people together is the only way to do it. I wish I had served ReMA prior to being elected to the city council because it has opened my eyes up on the advocacy part, and I would encourage an applicant today, knowing how impactful ReMA has been, to do the outreach. You have to tell people what’s going on. There was a time not too many years ago where we didn’t want people to see what the industry did. Now we want to say, “hey, come on in, community.” And we should. We should be damn proud of what we’re doing every single day. Each of us should keep our facilities ready to be shown every day. There’s always something different happening at our facilities. It’s true. There’s always a new thing that we’re doing, whether it’s processing or on a final product or storage. We’re always upgrading, and we should inform the community about what we’re doing.

Looking at the next two years, as chair of ReMA, what are your main priorities?

Kelly: I think we need to continue on the positive trend that we’re experiencing with our events, our finances, our staff, and we have to celebrate the rebrand. We need to tell our story. So that is one area.

The other passionate part of me, obviously, is governance. I remember when I got elected to the board. I asked what do you do when you get here? We had a training and met ReMA staff, but I still got on the airplane to fly home and said, I’m not sure I know what I’m supposed to be doing, and I don’t want people to have that feeling. I want us to invest in our leaders and develop some programs that actually train them on what their roles and responsibilities are because they could be very different than those at their job. I am really committed to doing that and want to see it come across well and be beneficial. I want anybody on the board to use the executive committee as people that you can call and say, hey, I’m a little lost here. Can you shed some light on this? And we can provide support.

The third thing is I want our executive committee more involved in the chapters. We need to continue to tell the industry’s story. I want people to understand it’s not national versus chapters, it’s ReMA, and we all work for this industry.

What advice do you have for someone on the fence about getting more involved in ReMA and attending governance meetings?

Kelly: Do it. That’s where you’re going to learn about the real effect of the trade association. That’s where issues get debated. That’s where issues become known. We meet quarterly and I don’t think there’s been a quarter where we haven’t left a meeting with new challenges and opportunities. It’s discussing issues that come up, it’s strategy, and it’s also the staff telling us what they’ve learned when they’re visiting the Hill. Some of us are traders, some of us are government affairs people, some of us are in operations. The voices of members from all areas make up what goes on at the board meetings. So, yes, register and if you’re going to be here, think about registering for a committee that you don’t know about and learn about it. Because I can tell you, many colleagues of mine that never thought they would be in the electronics recycling business are in it now, might not have thought they were going to be in paper and plastics, but they are now. Attend the meetings, and don’t be afraid to ask a question. If you don’t want to ask it, then there’s 30, 40, 50 people in the room that will ask for you. The resources that ReMA staff provides are endless.

What are you most looking forward to over the next two years?

ReMA Leadership

ReMA 2024-2026 National Board.

Kelly: I have always been involved in organizations, whether it’s Kiwanis or Rotary or the chambers of commerce or sitting on boards of a bank. I’ve always looked at making a difference for the time that I’m involved. I’m looking forward to celebrating the wins that we have and certainly looking at any shortcomings and how we can improve. That is very important for me, along with the help of the executive committee. I’ll be followed by Andy Golding, followed by Neil Byce, followed by Sean Daoud. I want us all to be involved so that there isn’t a stop and start between terms. I want us to work out a business plan so that staff knows we’ve got commitments for projects going forward; I’m really looking forward to building that business plan and celebrating the wins. Right.

What is something others will be surprised to know about you or something interesting you’d like to share?

Kelly: I’m very family based. My family is very important to me. I have recently been blessed with two new grandchildren, and I look forward to retirement with them in four years. They have made an impact on my wife, Robin, and my life. I’m a very interesting guy. If I’m not working, I want to be an Aruba.

Any final thoughts?

Kelly: I think this industry, more importantly, this trade association, is positioned very well for the future. I think the role that we play as an industry in the manufacturing chain is beyond critical. It’s beyond even the message that we’re delivering today because it is so needed. You can’t get where you want to go without the recycled materials industry. Period, end of sentence. It doesn’t happen.

Colin KellyHolding the distinction of being the first-ever Chair of the Recycled Materials Association (ReMA) under...
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