Fueling growth

Features - Industry Leaders Q&A

Alistair Field, CEO and managing director of Sims Metal Management, shares details on the firm’s strategic growth plan.

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August 27, 2019

Earlier this year, Rye, New York-based Sims Metal Management announced its plans to drive strategic growth throughout the company through 2025, which includes expanding its existing metals, electronics and municipal recycling businesses and establishing new businesses that will reduce waste and produce energy.

Metals recycling accounts for the largest share of Sims’ business at roughly 80 percent, says Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Alistair Field. “Our e-recycling (Sims Recycling Solutions) and municipal recycling (Sims Municipal Recycling) businesses represent 15 percent and 5 percent, respectively. There is growth potential in each of our lines of business.”

Sims’ strategic growth plan addresses each of these business segments in addition to targeting new opportunities in waste to energy. The company says it will use its auto shredder residue (ASR) to generate electricity, installing and operating seven plants within 10 years with the long-term goal of eliminating its waste disposal and energy costs.

“Sims Metal Management is strongly positioned to become a global leader in the circular economy, acting as responsible stewards for the environment,” Field said when the company announced its growth plan. “Innovation and our long-standing focus on providing better solutions in recycling will fuel our success.”

He says Sims uses its purpose to “create a world without waste to preserve our plant” as a “lens through which we evaluate opportunities and initiatives that are presented to us.”

Field continues, “Our business and the industry are changing, and so are people’s perceptions on how companies are addressing sustainability. Our purpose has allowed our employees to really think about why we do what we do—and how we can do it better and more efficiently. By having a clearly defined goal in mind, we are seeing a diversity of thoughts and opinions that is truly allowing us to set a course for a more sustainable world. Employees now have the freedom to think about innovation at Sims with respect to waste reduction in a long-term strategic environment.”

Field shares how this vision shapes Sims’ growth strategy in the interview that follows.

Recycling Today (RT): How do you plan to execute your goals of doubling your nonferrous business and growing your ferrous business in the U.S. by 40 percent in the next six years?

Alistair Field (AF): We plan to accomplish our goals for the metals business through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions that meet our investment criteria. We have significant growth opportunities in our existing markets, and we have a diverse supplier base that we will leverage to assist with our growth plans.

RT: Is Sims planning investments in auto shredder downstream sorting technology for nonferrous scrap? What form will such investments take?

AF: We have made significant investments in downstream sorting technology across the globe in the past two years partly in response to the Chinese National Sword initiative and partly to gain competitive advantage. These investments include optical, infrared, laser and color sorting technologies, and we will continue to invest to maintain our competitive position.

RT: How do you plan to achieve your goal of recycling 10 percent of data storage centers before the end of 2025?

AF: We are focusing on large organizations and technology companies that provide cloud solutions and have significant volumes of data center equipment coming to the end of its life and in need of recycling. Most companies are just starting to identify the need for cloud equipment recycling, so we are in a unique position to address this at an early stage. Currently, we have a number of long-term, established relationships with large technology companies, and we provide an efficient and effective service to them safely every day.

RT: Among Sims’ goals for the next six years is becoming the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) supplier of choice for recycled plastics. What investments are you making in this area to achieve this goal?

AF: We work with a select group of OEMs and their supply chain partners to collect, sort, process and create specific grades of recycled plastics for use by the OEMs in new equipment manufacturing. Our recycling facilities have installed both wet and dry sorting and separation equipment to produce streams that are attractive to plastic molders for product manufacturing.

RT: Sims says it wants to lead change in the municipal recycling sector. What changes are necessary to ensure the viability of curbside recycling? Are you targeting specific cities to contract with? Will this require building new material recovery facilities (MRFs)?

AF: There are a number of changes needed to create sustainable curbside programs going forward. Some of these are longer term infrastructure realignments—particularly in the area of domestic paper mill and pulping capacity—and we are starting to see investment in this area now. Some are in the realm of municipalities and the public to “clean up” the stream. And there is a need for the brands and manufacturers producing the products we must ultimately manage to fully engage in creating a circular economy by ensuring their products are recyclable and have recycled content.

In terms of MRF operation, there is a need for state-of-the-art processing capacity and technology to ensure we can efficiently achieve high recovery rates and produce quality products.

Regarding contracts, we will target larger cities and metropolitan areas (in excess of 1 million people) in order to have the volumes needed to justify the investment of time and resources. We will also look closely at regions where Sims already has a strong existing presence with our metals business and where there may be strategic synergies. There are existing publicly owned facilities that we will compete to operate, and there may be situations where a new MRF is required or justified. However, the need for new [MRFs] will be based on specific local circumstances.

RT: In the municipal recycling sector, are you focusing on certain sorting technologies that you feel hold the most promise?

AF: We are always looking to lead in the application and development of advanced technologies to perform tasks more efficiently and at lower cost or to sort and recover previously unrecoverable materials.

There are advancements in identification technologies utilized by optical sorters, such as adding laser and machine-learning systems to NIR (near-infrared) detection. Recent advancements in robotics also hold promise for reducing cost and adding to the sophistication of our sorting capability.

RT: Regarding your plans to capture energy from the nonmetallic portion of your ASR, what factors will you take into account in your site selection?

AF: We expect to have the capability to process ASR material in the United States and Australia. Currently, we are evaluating available technologies to best fit our materials, and our plan is to make a technology decision by year-end and then select the most appropriate Sims site to begin feasibility studies.

RT: Do you have any plans to recover the plastic contained in your ASR? Why or why not?

AF: We will be using the ASR plastic to generate energy through electricity or a synthetic gas. Plastic recovery is not economically viable at this time due to the mix of materials in the ASR.

RT: Please tell me about your initiatives designed to attract and retain talent.

AF: At Sims Metal Management, like many other companies, we are able to retain our employees by offering competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits, generous paid time off, as well as opportunities to develop and enhance their careers. We also take succession planning very serious, as it allows us to identify and nurture high performing candidates and build an internal talent pipeline. However, I think what truly sets us apart and allows us to retain employees is our culture. 

Our business is built on a set of core values that underscore every interaction each of us has—and safety is first and foremost. We emphasize our values-driven philosophy, our dedication to sustainability and our vision to create a world without waste to preserve the planet. What we’ve seen is that through these shared set of values, we’ve created a connection with our employees that allows them to feel like they are an important part of our company, our culture and our mission to create a more sustainable future.

Alistair Field is CEO and managing director of Sims Metal Management. More information on the firm is available at www.simsmm.com.