European Metal Recycling (EMR), global scrap metal recycling firm with headquarters in Warrington, in North West England, said was forced to make hundreds of job cuts during the pandemic due to persistent reduced volumes.
The firm which has sites around the UK including in Liverpool and at its Warrington Head Quarters and sites in Europe and US said it predicts a “bumpy recovery” during 2021 following the “significant material impact” of the pandemic.
Looking further ahead and despite the challenges posed by 2020, the family firm sees “all kinds of exciting opportunities” for the future – including playing a “big role” in delivering net-zero carbon for the UK.
Speaking to BusinessLive, EMR Managing Director, Ian Sheppard, said:
“Like many businesses, COVID-19 has had a significant material impact. EMR are no different, at the height of the lockdown supply volumes dropped as low as 20% of what we would consider normal.
This has now stabilised at around 70% of normal with some slow underlying improvement. We expect these reduced volumes to persist through 2021 in the UK and are estimating this at 80% of normal.”
He said EMR had “no choice” but to reduce the number of staff – and subsequently cut around 20% of the workforce – a reduction of 250 people.
That’s as well as closing a site on the south coast and another in Bedfordshire for metal recycling activity. All other sites remain open for business.
Mr Sheppard said: “Normal, excellent service will be maintained at every location. We continue to invest in the business for a bright future beyond the pandemic, but are also planning for a drawn-out, bumpy recovery through 2021.” He added: “We are an essential part of the waste processing infrastructure for the UK. If we don’t keep collecting, and processing, washing machines, vehicles and toasters and all the rest of it, then our streets will get clogged up.
So we had to keep our infrastructure going. And we were really grateful that so many of our staff carried on doing that.”
For Mr Sheppard, the problems arising from the COVID crisis were “on par” with the financial crisis of 2008. He said: “Those were enormous challenges. We’ve had several major price shocks in all aspects of our business over the last 15 years.
It’s been major regulatory changes or major economic crashes of one sort or another. I think we’re probably a bit luckier than other sectors like hospitality. We’ve been able to keep going, but just at reduced volume.”
EMR employs over 1,000 people around the UK and it recycles 10m tonnes of waste per year, with products re-used, recycled and recovered into more than 200 grades of new, sustainable raw materials.
EMR has a history spanning 70 years when it was founded as The Sheppard Group in Rochdale back in 1950.
After various domestic international mergers, it became known as EMR in 1994. Further acquisitions followed and now with sites all over the UK, Europe and the US, Mr Sheppard is the third generation to run the family business.
In Liverpool – one of the firm’s main UK ports – it handles over 1m tonnes of materials every year.
Mr Sheppard said:
“We’ve always reinvested pretty much all of our profits into developing the business. The advantage of being in a family business rooted in the North West is that we can make long-term decisions and really look to the future.
That’s very much the way we are planning our strategy at the moment.”
Mr Sheppard said he had optimism for the coming year, adding:
“We’re operating in a sector where there’s a huge amount of consumer interest and big interest from the brands.
People really care about the environment, and we really care that we’re part of delivering the future circular economy, and we see all kinds of exciting opportunities ahead.
We see a big role for us to play in delivering net-zero carbon for the UK.”