Interview with Sandra Montes on women in the recycling industry

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On the occasion of Women’s Day, ScrapAd has conducted a series of interviews with women working in the recycling sector as managers of large companies. At ScrapAd we believe that we must be part of the change, and move towards gender equality, which is becoming more and more latent, but which still has a long way to go.

It is essential to highlight the remarkable work done by women in the recycling sector. They are often pioneers in establishing innovative businesses that seek sustainable solutions to environmental problems, leading the way towards a more sustainable future. Despite facing challenges and barriers, they are proving that they can be agents of change in the fight against climate change and the protection of the environment. It is important to recognise and value their work and commitment to building a more just and sustainable future for all.

On this occasion, we have interviewed Sandra Montes Pérez, Managing Director at Cometel, an international company with more than 35 years in the sector, which offers solutions such as waste transporters, as well as being the COO and founder of ScrapAd.

What were your beginnings as a woman entrepreneur in the recycling sector like?

For me, starting a business has been the most exciting and at the same time the most demanding experience I have ever had. The beginnings are very complex, everything is still to be done, you live in uncertainty and you are constantly pivoting towards the appropriate model to find the best proposal for the client. In addition, these are key moments for the company and in many cases, resources are limited, so there is a dichotomy between wanting to grow and not having the necessary resources to do so.

What has been your greatest achievement since you have been present in the recycling field with ScrapAd?

Far from making it sound like a compliment – I’m not a believer in individual achievements – ScrapAd in its three years of history has managed to reach 80 countries and have almost 1500 registered users thanks to the work, commitment and passion of the team that makes it up. Before even having the team, in our beginnings, as a founder, I consider that it had merit to gain the trust of those who helped and supported us when we only had an idea that seemed far-fetched, presenting a disruptive proposal in a traditional and until then little digitised sector.

What challenges did you face when you were appointed Managing Director at Cometel?

Every company at every moment in its history has its challenges, as do the people who manage it and form part of it. In my case, I have been Managing Director of Cometel since a very young age, compared to the average in the sector. At that time, the challenge was, at 28, to manage a family business, with almost 30 years of history, in a largely male-dominated sector and with an average age in the team that was twice my own. That in itself was an opportunity because, in addition to the change in management, there was a generational change in other key positions that helped me to make the changes I considered appropriate and to choose the people who could best promote the lines that would position the company for the future.

How has the role of women in the sector evolved?

Of course it has evolved, perhaps more slowly than in other sectors, also because of the starting point from which we began. Recycling at an industrial level has historically been considered a sector for men and these are inertias that are fortunately being broken.

What are the predominant roles of women in the recycling industry today?

There are still many cases where the roles are still very marked, with women focusing on administration and finance functions, and men on marketing and new business development. This is a reflection of society until recently and is not exclusive to the sector, it is reversing and will be balanced in time. On the other hand, it should also be noted that there are women in areas of responsibility, such as Alicia Franco, Managing Director of FER (Spanish Recycling Federation) and we are seeing more and more cases like hers.

At present, do you think that there are more women in the recycling sector, or is it necessary to develop initiatives to support them in the recycling value chain?

From my point of view, there are two key lines of action to support a greater presence of women in the sector.

  • Initiatives

That already exist, such as WAS “Women Action Sustainability” that promote sustainability and promote the role of women in the sector.

  • Benchmarks

The search for and visibility of women who are benchmarks in the sector, who act as a guide for all those girls, young women or women who work in other sectors or areas of responsibility and promote their leadership in the sector.

Do you think there is a need for more women-led projects?

Absolutely yes, for many reasons. Firstly, because we have skills that, without considering them better or worse, are different and complementary to those provided by men. Generally speaking, we stand out for our emotional intelligence, our curiosity to explore new topics, our greater consideration from an ESG point of view, our long-term vision and our search for excellence.

In addition, we account for 50% of global talent for obvious reasons and, with the need for new contributions and driving forces we have, we cannot afford to lose that percentage of knowledge and value.

In an increasingly globalised economy, how important do you think industrial recycling is?

It is essential for many reasons:

  1. Legislation, which is increasingly restrictive and encourages recycling, penalising landfill and bad practices with materials. 
  2. External factors that have made it take on greater importance. 
  3. Scarcity of fossil resources, which are finite, expensive and environmentally demanding. 
  4. Growing energy costs, which are penalised by the use of non-recyclable materials due to consumption requirements. 
  5. Economic return, becoming aware of the importance of recycling and the economic return it brings to companies. 
  6. Social awareness, living in a society committed to recycling and the sustainability and care of resources.

Do you consider the role of digitalisation in this sector to be increasingly important?

Digitalisation is undoubtedly present in all areas, and in recycling it is just as important. The adaptation of each sector requires different tempos to be considered, assuming that all of them will be digitised, and of course also the recycling sector with disruptive initiatives such as ScrapAd.

What advice would you give to a woman who is about to embark on a recycling project?

Pivot her luck on a clover with these four leaves:

  • Company: to create or look for a company to work for that is consistent with what she is looking for and fulfils her as a professional and as a person. 
  • Training: that he/she is adequately trained on an ongoing basis and is prepared for the demands of the sector and new models in general. 
  • Family: that she achieves the appropriate family and friendship environment in which she feels supported to achieve what she sets out to do. 
  • Society: that she looks for and relies on female (but also male) references who have gone down paths that for her have yet to be discovered. And that after listening, she should do what she thinks is right for her.

Discover the interview with Claudia Torres Muñiz, Aluminium Sales Manager of Operadora Gisel, where she tells us about her experience as a woman in the recycling sector.

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