November 30, 2022

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Insights

Industry Leader Insights: Tom Bird

Tom Bird, President of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), sat down with TrueCircle to provide us with his expert insight on the industry’s current turbulent times, learnings from the past 25+ years and his outlook on the future of the industry.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve seen the price of recyclable materials and metals fluctuate considerably. What do you feel are the biggest drivers of this change and what is your forecast for the coming months?

Crikey! Forecasting is always a difficult one. We all know prices in the metals sector have been fluctuating recently and there’s a whole range of factors related to supply chain issues. There are two predominant drivers of this change. The obvious one being the incredible rise in energy prices, which is determining production levels and offtaker demand.

The other factor that is having an impact on uncertainty is the proposed legislation going forward in terms of the European Waste Directive and talk of the curtailment of exports. It’s backdoor protectionism, and I make no apologies for saying that. I believe it’s under the guise of Environmental Equality but is not at all feasible and the metal recycling industry must do everything in its power to stop it going ahead. There are mills across the world with world-class technology and standards, especially considering that a lot of these facilities are brand new, providing new, additional capacity.

For the recycle trade to work, it is imperative that we harness globalisation. We’re fighting very hard at BIR to maintain free trade across the board. The circular economy is global, not local.

Overall, the market has been pretty strong post-pandemic and I think this recent period of uncertainty will stabilise.

What is your advice to those facilities struggling to sell to their usual offtakers as a result of the factors you mentioned? How would you recommend they expand their networks?

It’s always a risk to have all your eggs in one basket; relying on a small pool of off-takers. There’s strong demand globally, and that demand increases as you harness innovative technologies and methods to expand your network. People have to keep looking for new markets and we have to allow recycling to absolutely operate as a free trade global market.

How do facilities ensure that they are producing high quality and what developments have you seen to the methods used to prove this quality?

Quality is becoming more and more important…

Export requirements are becoming much more stringent and there is a growing demand for recycled metals usage in higher quality metal outputs. It’s an ever-competitive market; customers are demanding a higher quality of product, so facilities must use better technology to improve and prove the quality of material that they are producing. There’s constantly developing, new technology and methods to demonstrate quality, with the obvious one being your TrueCircle AI.

Finally, we have seen this trend of moving trade to online marketplace across many parallel markets. What do you see as the biggest barriers for the recycling industry to transition to trading over online platforms?

I don’t think there’s anything stopping them. It’s a case of coming up with the right product. There are a couple marketplaces across recycling and metals that are very exciting. I think it would be wrong for me to mention them by name… There is definitely room in the market for online platforms, especially when they take on the entire process end-to-end. These platforms have the potential to ease many of recycling’s pain points, such as compliance, transport, admin, etc.

Thank you for your time Tom, great to talk and hearing your valuable insight!

Thank you and I’m interested to see how TrueCircle develops!

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