On the back of the Midlands’ largest independent metal recycling and waste management specialist being honoured with the Queen’s Award for Excellence in International Trade in 2022, we spoke to Thomas Ward to chart the firm’s rise from humble beginnings to global recognition in metal exports.
When Donald Ward established his single-site scrap metal site over eight decades ago, few could have predicted the business would become the Midlands’ largest independent metal recycling and waste management specialist with a global reputation. Today, the multi-site fourth-generation family business achieves a turnover of nearly £300 million per year, processing around one million tonnes of material for recycling annually.
Where Ward began
Now headquartered in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, Donald Ward Limited was incorporated in December 1976, although the business commenced trading in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, back in the 1940s. Founded by Donald Ward, the grandfather of current Directors David Ward Snr and Michael Ward, the business initially handled scrap steel, predominantly from the National Coal Board and the coal mines and the electricity sector, working with several local power stations. Back then, the materials were sold on to UK Steelworks, Foundries or other UK metal merchants.
Investment and innovation
The post-war era scrap steel market saw little investment in equipment, and the business relied heavily on manual labour and flame cutting. In the early 80s, the company became one of the early adopters of hydraulic machinery with the acquisition of a £100,000 550-tonne Henschel shear. This represented the first major investment for Ward but also marked an era of progress for the business as they were able to work more efficiently, processing more material and supplying to a wider range of end-users.
Experts in end-of-life vehicles
Ward has always received vehicles for recycling, but in 2003, they introduced specialist equipment to comply with the new ELV regulations (2003). Ward continuously trains new staff in the most efficient techniques to accept and process vehicles and invested in newer equipment in recent years to speed up the car processing operations. All the cars processed are then sent for final destruction in the companies’ car shredding and metal processing operations.
Ward continues to focus on sustainable growth through investment in its people, processes, equipment and infrastructure. It’s a formula that has paid dividends; currently, Ward operates across 11 sites, employing around 400 employees directly and hundreds more through supply chain.
In 2002, Ward invested £5m in a second site before opening a further three along the M1 corridor, with additional investment on the horizon.
A solid reputation for vehicle recycling
Around eighty percent of the business’ turnover is the processing and recycling of metals from sources, including end-of-life vehicles (ELVs), an area which has been the focus of further investment.
In Ilkeston, a 3,000hp Mesto Lindemann fragmentiser was installed in 2008, turning a small scrap yard into Ward’s central metal recycling site, improving operations and increasing output. This was followed in 2012 with the opening of a cutting-edge Automobile Shredder Residue (ASR) plant at its second Ilkeston site.
Thomas continues: “Ward’s ASR plant has enabled us to capture more metals and non-ferrous material generated from the fragmentiser, supporting the EU directive that 95 per cent of ELVs must be extracted and recycled.”
“At our Chesterfield site, which we acquired in 2015, we also have a shearing operation, waste recycling equipment, ELV depolluting rigs and facilities to handle hazardous waste, which is further testament to our bespoke approach to waste management. This helps us to be able to offer a complete waste recycling offering to our customers.”
Almost three-quarters of the metal Ward recycled is exported to global customers. A significant quantity of this is certified as ‘end-of-waste’, as Ward’s processing techniques produce an end product with a low impurity level, meaning it can be sold as a ‘product’ rather than ‘waste’. The firm is one of a small number of UK businesses to achieve this certification, allowing them to trade with a wider global market.
Shaping the future
The firm also continues to shape the metal recycling agenda through its links with the British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA) and industry forums such as East Midlands Rail and the Institute of Demolition Contractors. It has contributed to the Trailblazer apprenticeship scheme and is an advocate of internal training and development to secure future industry talent.
An award-winning formula
By processing metal and waste, Ward actively delivers environmental and economic benefits, contributing to the goal of a circular economy by ensuring that steel remains in circulation and minimises any waste to landfill. Through its sustainability Road Map, The Ward Way, the business is committed to its people and ever-expanding customer base, achieving multiple awards for its endeavours at both a national and regional level.
For more information on Ward’s vehicle recycling capabilities, visit ward.com