Closing the Loop in a post-COVID-19 landscape

Guy Mercer – Director of Sustainability, EMR Guy Mercer_EMR

The global pandemic has defined our lives and the economy for the past 12 months but, at EMR, we know that this cannot, and will not, cause us to pause our drive for sustainability.

In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic (and the cycle of lockdowns it has caused), have provided something like a dress rehearsal for low-carbon living. As a society, we’re thinking more about the journeys we take, our relationship with the natural world and we’ve all been forced to think more about our health and wellbeing.

This is having a significant effect on the infrastructure and technology that the economy requires – speeding up long-term shifts in the demand for the recycled material that companies such as EMR produce.

This is where EMR’s size, and the breadth of our expertise, comes into its own.

For much of our history, EMR has focused on recycling ferrous metals including iron and steel for engineering, used in industries particularly affected by the impact of coronavirus such as transport and construction.

Yet, as EMR has grown, it has also become a leading recycler in non-ferrous metals such as copper, which is integral to many of the electrical products which have kept the economy functioning during a year of lockdowns and social distancing.

Meanwhile, we also process vast quantities of plastics and other waste materials that will have a secondary use in the sustainable, post-COVID economy of the future.

And, while electrification might mean there will be a smaller demand for materials to go into fossil fuel-based technologies, there is certainly going to be a growth in the demand in materials to go into next-generation infrastructure and power supplies.

Equally, as we emerge from this pandemic, some things will not change.

Society still needs to function and the need for built assets and infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, will remain. Factories still need facilities to make products and, though their role is changing, we will still need offices and high streets. These things have been needed throughout the pandemic and we know that they will be needed afterwards.

At EMR we’re taking a close look at what is changing, which areas of the economy are likely to remain the same, and are using this insight to drive our efforts to build a ‘closed loop’ approach to recycling that’s good for our business and better for the environment.

For the past 12 months, we’ve continued to invest and research new ways to cut emissions despite the obstacles that the pandemic has presented. For example, we are engaged with a range of parties in other industries, finding ways to utilise our waste materials as a fuel or as an integral part of new products in the construction industry.

The decision to remain steadfastly focused on this approach hasn’t only been taken at a board level. At EMR our efforts to be more sustainable – and ultimately achieve ‘net-zero’ in our operations by 2040 – are driven by our employees at every level.

In my career, I’ve seen a change in the priorities of those who choose to work with EMR and develop a career in the recycling industry. The value judgements the next generation is making in terms of organisations they will consider working for, means EMR must remain a leader in sustainability if it is to continue to attract the best talent. If we don’t, we will suffer in the long term but this is a challenge we embrace.

Ultimately neither EMR, nor society as a whole, can afford to let the pandemic interrupt our efforts to ‘close the loop’ and becoming a more sustainable business.

Climate change and environmental issues have been around a lot longer than COVID-19 and the challenges are more complex and require even greater effort to overcome. History shows that pandemics, however tragic and difficult, do happen and humanity in the end prevails. We simply don’t know that about climate change.

That is why EMR is working so hard to play its role in ‘closing the loop’.