CRJ Talks – Steve Eminton – Editor at Letsrecycle.com

Interview Transcript

Tom: [00:00:00] Hi Steve thanks for joining me today. How are you?

Steve: [00:00:05] Well, all good. Thanks, Tom. I'm working from home at the moment, but we are doing like two or three days a week in the office. So a bit of a blend and be good to get back to normal.

I think we're probably still a couple of months away from that, but we're great to see you anyway.

Tom: [00:00:20] Yes. Thanks. Yeah, no, but we're getting there, aren't we. Where do we, where are we talking to you from today?

Steve: [00:00:27] Well, I live in West London. Our offices are in central London, so not too much of a commute. So I guess London where the action is, but the real action I know in the waste industry is out there in the fields.

So we really enjoy getting out on the site and seeing equipment and seeing CRJ sometimes out there too.

Tom: [00:00:46] Sure. Excellent.  For those of you who don't know who Steve is, Steve, would you be able to introduce yourself and the role you have within the industry?

Steve: [00:00:59] I've been involved in the sector as a journalist for 25 years, some might say too long but. I started with MRW and then in 2000 we set up letsrecycle.com when the internet was really just beginning. But we thought that the waste and recycling sector deserved a sort of digital product. And certainly now I think, you know, I like to believe we are the market leader and we try and cover as much as we can with a relatively small team.

And of course we also run the Let's Recycle Live show, which is important to us. We like to see, we know what's going on and treat everybody with respect and it is an exciting sector to to talk about.

Tom: [00:01:39] Sure. Excellent. So firstly  COVID has been affecting all of us and the waste industry is no different. How would you, how do you feel or perceive COVID to have affected the industry?

Steve: [00:01:56] Well, I think you're right, Tom. You know that the waste industry is no different. Covids effected so many industries in the UK and the waste industry has also taken a bit of a knock. And then it's also had some opportunities from it. I think there's well, there's several key points we could, we could draw from what's happened over the past year or year and a month, that on the municipal front, the volumes that of waste and recyclables that local authorities have had to deal with have soared, and  we, we had reports over the last year that some councils were seeing volumes of recycling and waste up by as much as 40%. But I think generally it was, it was 20% last year. That's cooled a little bit now as perhaps people have bought everything they needed. And also there's more people back at work, but I think overall local authorities would say there's about a 10% rise.

Then of course, you've got the commercial and industrial sector. The other part of the business. And there  the volumes have reduced notably in London. And now I think that they're [00:03:00] recovering a bit, industries back in business, commerce back in business, to an extent, obviously we'll pick up when restaurants get going this summer, and probably volumes 10% down. I think, I think interestingly as well, food waste volumes and green waste volume, green waste probably maintained or even increased because everybody's been focusing more on gardens. Food waste also because from homes, but it's again on the commercial sector. So different sectors seeing different impacts. And of course the waste sector recognized for being a key industry and getting exemptions from some of the COVID requirements in terms of working. So I think thumbs up the role of the sector.  Yeah. Agreed. And do you think there'll be any lasting effects from COVID that be positive or negative?

[I think businesses themselves we'll be, will act smarter. The waste companies, their suppliers, better digital communication. I mean, what you're doing now might not have happened because of before COVID. So I think all the businesses are much smarter on digital, their back office systems, probably being updated and remote working. We may see less travel by businesses. I tend to think though that, you know, travel will come back, but businesses, themselves and their internal operations, will have smartened up, I think backups, computer software and everything people would have invested. They won't want to get caught out if they have been. I think it also everybody can, will take a pat on the back that they delivered. I think from the people I've spoken to this more team bonding there's recognition of workers, and there's probably better communications within teams and businesses, and also more of an understanding of the issues around mental health. That's one way businesses have strengthened and it's not something, you know in the waste sector, you do have a really, you tend to think is a bit of a macho industry everybody's got good mental health, but you know, that's issues like that and they've been tackled. So there are some positives that come out of COVID.

Tom: [00:05:14] Yeah. That's great to see. Okay. Moving on from COVID another kind of issue within our industry at the moment is of course the scrapping of the red diesel subsidy.

Steve: [00:05:25] I can tell you what my, my thoughts are on that, that it is a big, it must be a big concern, a lot of businesses. I think it's incredible how much red diesel there was used. About 15% of all the diesel used in the UK is red diesel. And obviously it is you know waste industries is a big user as well. I mean, I imagine it must be important if you, I guess Tom, you would see it is important from your side?

Tom: [00:05:55] Sure, I mean our hire fleet, and much of our sales equipment that we sell at the moment is diesel based and yet we're having an effect on our hire fleet and customers.

Steve: [00:06:07] Yeah. I think the people I've spoken to, I mean, there's a lot, there is a lot of concern and I think. Particular concern that it's coming in so quickly that, I mean the government said everybody's had two years warning, but that's pushing it a bit because everybody really just decided. I know they consulted in 2020, but nobody was really thinking about it then, because COVID was the focus. Now you've got to, you've got to get re used up all the red deal by, I think it's April 2022.

I think what it means is, I kind of could see where the government's coming from because there's so I think in London it's getting on for like 9 or 10% of emissions particularly coming from red diesel because of the use of it. I think equipment operators, like your customers will have to be more efficient in their use of the machinery.

They may, they may switch it off more often or try and make sure they're getting the maximum use when it's running. And I reckon you'll probably see more of the OEMs looking at hybrid versions where they're electric and where electric and diesel can work together. So I'm sure, I'm sure. I mean, I'm not an expert on the engines, but machinery, I'm sure the kit you're selling must be getting more efficient engines all the time.

Tom: [00:07:26] Yeah. Yeah, for sure getting more efficient   and a lot of the OEMs we deal with are working on hybrid static electric machines. So it is coming down the line, but I suppose an issue is a lot of the smaller operators kind of rely on the used machinery market and just, how quickly suppose that electric or hybrid market can mature to then filter down to those smaller operators.

Steve: [00:07:59] Yeah, I think, yeah, I think that's a really good point, Tom. It's very, very hard on the sector which can't afford to instantly switch. I mean, one of the waste transfer, skip operators made a really good point. You know, if you're a smaller business, you can't just go and buy a Tesla overnight. When you haven't gotten the money, you might have to stick with an older diesel older car and same with kit and you can't just go splash out on new kit  because state of the art equipment is always more expensive to buy new. I think, I think it is a tough timetable. I would have thought they'd have been better phasing red diesel out over a couple of years, rather than bringing it in so quickly in 2022. I mean, I think it's an extra 45p per litre , it's a massive burden on businesses. Yeah, it is a problem.

Tom: [00:08:58] I've read some people's responses from the industry saying it's a possibility that material that would other wise being recycled could end up back in landfill due to the cost of processing it. Do you think that's a realistic worry for the industry?

]Steve: [00:09:16] I mean, when you look at margins, their margins are tight and it could tip the balance. In some circumstances, I could see that. I mean the landfill costs have gone up. It's probably gone up possibly a pound a ton, at the landfill and the tax has gone up a couple of pounds. So landfills, maybe three pounds more expensive. It is, it is a fine line, but. Yeah, I think everyone will be looking for more efficiency in their machinery. And there, there, there has to be a threat. If a business can't afford that and final separation or final sorting, then that may go for landfill or incineration, you're absolutely right. So it's a challenge. It's going to be particularly hard. I think from say April 22, for at least two years, it'll take a couple of years for everybody to get used to it and absorb this extra cost. Passing it on one of the cultures of thinking in DEFRA is that the cost should be able to be passed on.

But, and everybody will have the same challenge, but it's not, well, it doesn't always work out like that. You know, that may well be true that bigger businesses can be more efficient than smaller businesses as you say, will have to have used machinery.

Tom: [00:10:34] Excellent.  So we'll, we'll go onto RDF if that's okay with you. It's obviously quite a crucial element within the waste market and relatively new and growing. How do you see it's place within the industry now and in the future?

Steve: [00:10:55] Well, RDF remains an important outlet. The bottom line is that we haven't got enough energy from waste plants in the UK.  Industry experts would suggest we perhaps need eight to 10 more plants before we can be self-sufficient.

So I think we are some years away, I would reckon five years time, we might only have smaller volumes of RDF going abroad. And it may in fact be more, more SRF where the RDF being refined for cement plants or other specialists users. But in the short term, there's definitely a demand for RDF processing in the UK and there's a market on the continent. Prices are edging up a little bit because there is more waste now arriving from Germany, which is going to some of the RDF plants. And we're also seeing some of the countries like Italy sending waste for incineration in Northern Europe. So of course, if there's more waste coming to these other countries, the incinerator operators can push the price up a little bit, but it's, it's a fine blend, fine balance because as the C&I waste in the UK, is down because of  COVID, UK plants have been offering some good prices to get some of the RDF waste into the UK and then you don't have to always have to bail it either. But I think, I think you're absolutely right, it is such an important market and there's some very good well-organized operators in the UK who can handle the material and take it out and take it out of the UK. So  I don't see it coming to an end anytime soon. Hasn't reached it over the a hundred-pound mark yet for the cost of sending RDF abroad. And that's kind of related to the landfill tax here, which the landfill price, which is probably running 10 above RDF. So it'd be interesting to see the, the margins and the pricing over the coming year.

Tom: [00:12:49] Yeah, for sure.

Steve: [00:12:51] I would just say on the, on the agenda, really the whole sector is the new waste strategy, which is great because it gives government a focus on waste and recycling. And I think anybody who's involved in waste and recycling would, would just have to watch what happens on that. And there's going to be an ongoing push to recycle more getting up to 65%, maybe more. So anybody involved in that, and there'd be more measures, more encouragement to take waste out of landfill.

So the organic sector reuse of aggregates, everything  is going that way. So if you're in that business, stay positive because that's the way the trends are definitely moving in the future.

Tom: [00:13:38] Sure. Well, that's great. Thank you so much for joining me today, Steve it's, it's something new for us doing these topical discussions with industry figures.

So thank you very much for joining us and hope to see you soon.

Steve: Thanks Tom, a pleasure and good luck to everyone at CRJ and in all your work too. Thank you.

Tom: Thank you, cheers Steve.

 

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