Still a family business, European Metal Recycling (EMR) started in the 1950s as a single scrapyard in Rochdale, owned by the Sheppard family. Its UK business now has nearly 70 sites and there are operations in Germany, the Netherlands and North America – the latter equivalent in size to the UK business.
From the industry press perspective, EMR has preferred to keep itself to itself in the past. But during the course of 2018, a new era of engagement was evident.
Last year the business spent £4m on upgrading its Liverpool docks site, including putting in a flagship office building. One reason for this was to allow the company to engage more with local charities, businesses and schools, and have a corporate social responsibility function.
Liverpool, one of its three main ports, handles one million tonnes of material a year, a third of that handled in the UK. It is also home to the largest shredder in the country, which can process 400 tonnes an hour of material.
The Scrap Metal Dealers Act: “Nothing is wrong with the Act itself, but more training is needed for officials to understand what they are checking, and it needs enforcement on a daily basis.”
Carousel fraud (the theft of VAT) whereby fraudsters import goods VAT-free from other countries then sell the goods to domestic buyers, charging them VAT and disappear without paying the tax: “Significant amounts of copper are imported into the UK, which has no facilities to smelt it, and then sold out again. The BMRA has been working with the House of Lords in the hope of getting traction on this.”
Chief executive Andrew Brady says the company realised that, while “everyone knew we were here…they didn’t necessarily know what we did or what we contributed to the environment. They just think ‘oh, it’s very noisy and there’s a lot of banging going on – they have a big machine and ships go in and go out’. But, actually, what is it doing for the British economy? What is it doing for UK plc?”
Since revamping the site, EMR has held its first ever open day, set up a programme for nearby schools, and has been working more closely with the council, mayor and MPs. This has allowed it to communicate the environmental and other benefits of the business, while its work with charities includes giving people who have fallen on tough times interviews and job opportunities.
“While everyone knew we were here…they didn’t necessarily know what we did or what we contributed to the environment. They just think ‘oh, it’s very noisy and there’s a lot of banging going on’. But what is it doing for the British economy? What is it doing for UK PLC?”
Tying all of this together, as Brady explains, is a large, Where’s Wally-type pictorial on the wall: the company’s new vision. Brady says: “You will find one of these [pictorials] on any depot’s mess room wall so that [for] anyone new coming into the company or anyone who wants to refresh their memory, it is a constant reminder of where we have come from, where we are, and where we want to go to.”
Included in the image are speech bubbles with comments captured from employees, such as “every day brings a new challenge”, as well as those that hark from bygone times, including “stick with me, kid, and you’ll be a scrappy one day”. Comments for the future include “how can we improve this process?” Three areas of action were identified to help deliver the vision: ‘how do we take the best of who we are and what we do now?’, ‘what do we change or leave behind?’ and ‘what do we need to add or learn?’
Brady says the focus is on making EMR more efficient, more service-orientated, more customer and community-focused, as well as identifying where the opportunities lie. To help with this, the company has set up an in-house training academy where it can ‘grow its own’ apprentices, drivers, engineering and admin staff.
“The opportunity is not necessarily just trying to flood other countries with waste – it is finding a way to separate that ourselves. So we are busying ourselves looking for solutions to that.”
The core business for EMR is still metal recycling, but it has diversified into plastics and energy-from-waste (EfW) production in recent years – the latter still in its infancy. Innovative Environmental Solutions (IES) is its EfW plant in Oldbury, in which it became the 100% shareholder in March 2018. Its plastics plant, initially a joint venture with MBA Polymers, was fully taken over by EMR in December 2017.
“The reason we originally had those joint ventures, was that, obviously, they had the technology but we had the foresight to know where we wanted to go with this type of recycling,” says Brady.
“We didn’t know whether it could work. Particularly with the technology partners of the EfW plant, they had other facilities they had been using for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) but not automotive shredder residue. So it was very much a vanguard operation but, once we had got the technology right, then it was always going to be the case that we would actually part ways.”
Brady says there is “absolutely” more scope to recover more plastics from waste, but technology needs to come first and for those polymers that can be recycled, more needs to be done to capture them at source.
plastics and energy from waste
EMR’s main markets for ferrous metals are the UK, Europe, Turkey, Egypt, China and India, but Brady explains that the far eastern market “has very much been one that a lot of the industry has been sending material to, so zorba, plastic-coated copper wires, motors and so on have all been going there. And, of course, the category 7 ban that the Chinese implemented [at the start of 2018] has raised challenges to the industry”.
Tackling the fire issue
Having had a few fires at the Liverpool site, EMR decided to take a proactive approach to fire prevention. Brady believes there is a link between fires and lithium ion batteries, although it is often difficult to confirm.
“What tends to happen when those batteries are transported is if they are slightly damaged in the transportation and then come into contact with water, they immediately arc. So, particularly during the summer months [when] you might have a dew overnight, [a fire] can easily start,” he explains.
EMR approached a retired fire chief to audit its sea-going facilities and shredder sites. He suggested training that could be provided by the fire service for staff so that they could initially fight a fire, the type of equipment required and the need to put in place fire prevention plans (FPPs).
“These plans are similar to those being rolled out by the EA across the industry,” Brady says. The suggested FPP maps out aspects such as where to draw water, and which men are trained and qualified, so that trained staff did not have to be pulled off fire-fighting.
Brady explains: “What tends to happen is the fire brigade arrives after they have had the call and their first concern is loss of life or danger to life. So they will pull everyone off fire-fighting duties to establish what is in the fire and what type of fire it is. And, actually, that is when the seat of the fire takes hold because no one is fighting it, so it proliferates.”
EMR went with the expert’s recommendations and initially approached West Midlands Fire Service to be the main trainer for its staff. This was conducted during 2018 as it rolled out its fire-fighting equipment.
It also now has a partnership with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, which does training exercises on EMR sites to practice cutting people out of scrap cars, as well as joint fire exercises. This is part of a drive to develop relationships with local fire brigades, encouraged at all depots.
Since FPP measures have been put in place at Liverpool, it has not had a fire. “But we spent a lot of money on the prevention side there, so we have really tightened up [our procedures for accepting waste],” says Brady.
“We have also employed infra-red cameras to look for hot spots before they break out, because if we can actually catch a fire at the earliest possible point, then it doesn’t become a major issue.”
All EMR’s sites have CCTV, and images from the infra-red cameras will show up on the screens of the security firms employed to alert the company or fire brigade if needed.
Brady believes that identification of the source is the way to try to prevent fires for the time being, but EMR has been working with the British Metals Recycling Association on communicating across the industry the need to pull out batteries, as well as to customers and suppliers.
He suggests that a deposit return scheme approach to batteries could be a way to ensure they are drawn out of the waste stream or tax incentives for recycling batteries.
But, as the saying goes, where there is a challenge, there is an opportunity: “The opportunity is not necessarily just trying to flood other countries with waste – it is finding a way to separate that ourselves. So we are busying ourselves looking for solutions to that.”
Brexit is also occupying minds. Parliament was in deadlock with the Government about the proposed exit deal.
“Personally, I don’t think [leaving is] any good for us and certainly for the business it is not,” Brady says. “Having said that, most of our materials are exported further afield. I think the biggest impact might occur if there is no deal with the EU because that will cause problems at the ports.
“If you then start looking at haulage and transport modes – and 70% of our business being exported in containers which involves road trucks, trains and ships – that could be a big problem. But that is going to be a big problem for everybody.
“The other issue that occurs if there is no deal [is with drivers]. I think that something like 22% of all HGV drivers in the UK at any one time are European nationals, so there would immediately be a dearth of road transport potentially. Therefore, you may have to make certain considerations in terms of where you aggregate the material, and [factor in] that there might be huge stock gains or a crash in terms of the price of scrap within the UK.”
Brady reveals a conversation with Environment Agency (EA) head Sir James Bevan, concerned at where material would go and industry being in breach of permit allowances if companies cannot move material: “If a deal occurs then this won’t pass, but I think you have to be prepared,” he adds.
On the topic of acquisitions, and the recent Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) ruling forcing EMR to sell some of its sites acquired from Metal & Waste Recycling, Brady says the decision was accepted and it is in the process of packaging the sites up to be sold.
UK Sites and Processing
In the UK, EMR has around 65 sites that are open to anyone with scrap metal to sell. These include smaller yards or feeder sites which take in scrap metal that is used to feed its production depots, where processing equipment such as shears or shredders will break the material down.
It separates the materials into non-ferrous and ferrous metals, and the rest are aggregated for downstream processing to release more metals and segregate plastics from high calorific materials such as foam, leather and carpet.
The company has been looking to further extract as much as possible from the materials it treats through its IES-badged EfW plant. Speaking about the facility, Brady says: “As you know when you are at the vanguard of this, it does take quite some time to get it to work on a scaled basis, so that is what we are going through at the moment”.
Processed material is generally exported by container, short sea ship or deep sea ship. As well as its port sites at Liverpool, Tyne and Tilbury, the company has five or six short sea ports.
The average payload from its deep sea ports is 45,000 tonnes, with ferrous shipped mainly to Turkey. Short sea ships will take anything from 1,500-10,000 tonnes, and are used to bring material into its deep sea ports for aggregation or to export material to Europe.
“[The CMA] has set a new rationale for what is considered the right market share. Actually, I think it possibly needed this to set the benchmarks to know what market shares were acceptable, whether it was on a national basis, whether it was on a regional basis. So, in the future, we will ensure that any acquisitions we look at, we will put that test to it first.”
While the current focus for EMR is on honing the operations it has and shaping them for the future, Brady says: “That doesn’t mean that as [acquisition] opportunities arise we wouldn’t look at them.”
CV: Andrew Brady
Brady is the chief executive officer of European Metals Recycling and has managed the business at senior executive level for eight years.
He has held professional management posts for the past 32 years across six industry sectors: waste management, automotive, manufacturing, construction, property development and metal recycling.
His experience has been gained on three continents, serving blue chip PLCs and private businesses.