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Metal recycler’s rise to excellence in international trade

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. 


Metal recycler’s rise to excellence in international trade f
Thomas Ward

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. 

Metal recycler’s rise to excellence in international trade family
The Ward family 1946

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. 

Sustainable growth

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.”

Metal recycler’s rise to excellence in international trade Chesterfield
Chesterfield site

“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.”

Expanding export 

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. 

Metal recycler’s rise to excellence in international trade award
Derby Telegraph Award Winners

For more information on Ward’s vehicle recycling capabilities, visit

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Owain Griffiths

Owain Griffiths

Head of Circular Economy at Volvo Cars

Owain joined Volvo Cars in June 2021 to lead Circular Economy in the Global Sustainability Team. The company has committed to being a circular business by 2040 and has financial, recycled content and CO2 based targets for 2025, all of which Owain is working across the company to make happen. Owain previously worked for circular economy consultancy Oakdene Hollins where he advised businesses on evidence led circular economy implementation. 

Turning into a circular business and the importance of vehicle reuse and recycling.

The presentation will cover the work Volvo Cars is doing to achieve 2025 but mainly focus on the transformational work towards 2040 and the business and value chain changes being considered. Attention will be paid to the way vehicles are being dealt with at the end of life and the complexities of closing material and component loops. Opportunities and challenges which Volvo Cars is facing will be presented including engagement with 3rd parties and increasing pressure from stakeholders.

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