BIR Convention Week Highlights – Opening / Spotlight on Trade: BIR continuing to operate and innovate on all fronts amid turbulent times
“Visible and vigorous leadership” was essential in helping the recycling industry to navigate the “unprecedented” business conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, insisted Michael Lion of Everwell Resources Ltd, Chairman of BIR’s International Trade Council, in introducing a Spotlight session based around personable but wide-ranging and informative conversations with two of the world recycling association’s leading lights.
These separate conversations - with BIR President Tom Bird and Susie Burrage of the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) - would enable members to connect more deeply with the BIR leadership and gain a fuller understanding of the challenges faced by the world recycling association, Mr Lion explained.
Mr Bird acknowledged that despite the many profound negatives surrounding the pandemic, it had also served to highlight the breadth of BIR’s activities and the importance of being a member. “BIR is not just about conventions,” he stated. “Members need to understand the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes on behalf of the sector.”
Since the start of the Coronavirus crisis, BIR had organized regular online calls with national associations and had continued to produce its Mirror publications in order to keep members fully informed on issues of direct relevance to their businesses. “Pandemic or no pandemic, BIR continues to fight hard for our industry on all fronts,” he underlined.
In his earlier opening address, Mr Bird had highlighted some of the world recycling association’s key activities, not least its constant advocacy work to defend the interests of the entire recycling sector at national, international and supranational levels, including at the United Nations and OECD. This ensured that the voices of recyclers, both large and small, “are taken into account when decisions are made that affect the whole industry”. He stressed: “Regulators are still regulating, so it is essential that it’s ‘business as usual’ as far as BIR is concerned.”
He also pointed to BIR’s ever-growing Statistical Observatory containing latest facts and data to support arguments in favour of recycling, and to BIR’s central role in the launch of the Global Recycling Day initiative. BIR’s commitment to innovation was also exemplified, he said, by the programme for the coming week which featured not only commodity webinars and a virtual recycling exhibition but also, and very importantly, a platform for networking.
Mr Bird, whose vast industry experience includes working for a family business, a multi-national and a Chinese company, identified “stop/start economies” and “being unable to plan” as key challenges amid the current pandemic. “A lot of smaller operators can’t get credit insurance or, if they can, (the cost) is prohibitively high,” he said. And while all companies would be affected in some way, “those businesses carrying large amounts of debt are probably going to find it the toughest”.
While Mr Bird praised the proven resilience of the recycling industry over many decades, Mr Lion pointed to a macro-economic picture suggesting “an awful lot worse to come”, contending that some businesses “might simply just disappear”. However, he added, re-investment in recycling had always tended to happen quickly once economies started to recover.
Ending their conversation with agreement on the need to encourage younger recycling executives to become involved with BIR, Mr Lion then introduced “one of the up-and-coming stars” of the world association, namely Susie Burrage of UK-based Recycled Products Ltd. In addition to being President of the BMRA, a board member of BIR’s Non-Ferrous Metals Division and a BIR Ambassador for the UK, she is also Treasurer of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation and President of its European Metal Trade and Recycling Branch. She is the fourth generation of her family to run a metals processing facility.
The BMRA has recorded significant membership growth of late, attributed in part to heavy use of social media and innovations such as a recycling industry apprenticeship scheme. According to Ms Burrage, association membership and regular communication with other associations around the world were particularly important in the current difficult climate. “You realize that we’re all struggling with the same issues, so it’s nice to feel like you’re not alone,” she said.
Regarding Brexit, Ms Burrage identified VAT liability and notifiable waste shipments as key points to be resolved. But she agreed with Mr Lion that, as a country that already exports three-quarters of the scrap it produces, a post-Brexit UK could benefit from European consumer moves towards using the sustainability argument to prevent flows of recyclables outside the EU. In this context, Mr Bird had earlier stated that “BIR is very much for free trade” while Mr Lion described these developments as “very worrying”.
Ms Burrage hailed the circular economy concept as “a gift” that the recycling industry needed to grasp. “The general public now has a thirst for knowledge about recycling,” she said, adding that social media “is a great way to raise awareness and to show we are a crucial element in the circular economy”. The recycling industry represented “the epitome of sustainability”, agreed Mr Lion.
Ms Burrage also called on the recycling industry to continue its push for mandated green public procurement and recycled content targets, as well as for greater emphasis on eco-design rather than “getting other people’s problems pushed on to us”.