Recycling and waste management in the circular economy

In an interview with Gerry Marshall, the CEO of Recycling Lives, the company's new B Corp status and the future of the circular economy is explained

What does Recycling Lives do? 

We are a recycling and waste management company with a difference.  Founded in 1977 and restructured to ensure the business is run on the principles of creating social value in 2008, we have since expanded to build on this, delivering environmental innovation and strong commercial offerings, with positive ESG as a fully embedded business ethos. Our operations deliver much more than commercial opportunities, they also create tangible social value and work towards a better planet.

Our four business streams comprise of: vehicle processing; metal processing; producer responsible compliance (offering WEEE, packaging & batteries); and environmental services (sometimes referred to as waste management).

Through this unique business model, we employ over 550 people across 23 sites in the UK. We generate over 600,000 tonnes of high-quality shredded steel a year from our operations and are also the largest vehicle processor in the UK, responsibly recycling upwards of 180,000 cars a year.

Using circular economy solutions, we’re intent on transforming the sector and pioneering more innovative recycling methods to reduce environmental impact whilst making sure the essence of the company – our people and our commitment to the environment, is retained. 

How does its business model ensure profitability?

Our purpose as an organisation is to make profits that are social and environmental, as well as commercial. We use our commercial success to support emerging social value and charitable causes – effectively growing a business where people, the planet and profit all go hand in hand. 

The drive to create a better world for everyone within it, regardless of their background, is something that is ingrained in all of us at Recycling Lives. Our rehabilitation programmes with people who have been in the justice system and ex-offenders, have been instrumental in reducing re-offending rates and supporting people within our communities for a self-sufficient path forward. The average re-offending rate in the UK is circa 60% percent, but among those employed by Recycling Lives who have been in custody, the re-offending rate is less than 5%. So, while helping those who need a chance and the support to rebuild their lives, we are also helping to lower re-offending rates and contribute to the stability and economy of local communities.

In terms of ensuring profitability, our business attracts like-minded businesses aspiring to create social value and positive environmental impact by providing them the access and means to do this. Commercially, we are known for a level of recycling quality which allows high levels of reuse in second life.

About B-Corp, is this a help or hindrance to your business operations? 

B Corp is known as the ‘gold standard’ for sustainability and its rigorous process covers five key impact areas: environment, governance, workers, community and customers.

In December, we achieved certification. There’s no doubt that having B-Corp accreditation is a benefit to our business – it demonstrates that we’re doing the work as opposed to just talking about it!  Of course it is a rigorous and demanding process, but the measurement and transparent reporting of our initiatives and work are necessary to be able to ensure iterative improvement. So, whilst meeting the standard is exacting, both the process and the outcome of B-Corp accreditation are extremely helpful to us as an organisation.

How can recycling improve as an industry to become more profitable? 

As an industry at the fore of the net zero drive, we’re able to harness the momentum to make a real difference.  The demand for increased efficiencies and sustainable practices, especially in the face of a potential economic downturn, means innovation has to play a huge role, pushing us to recover even more from our recycling processes, to further reduce waste to landfill, and in doing so, improving the sustainability of the sector as a whole. 

As an example, one of our core innovations at Recycling Lives is the development of our Energy from Waste solution. From our early work in 2018 when we began working with UCLAN on a solution to reduce the amount of landfill created by automotive shredder residue (ASR) - an inherently difficult and complex material to break down in this industry, we have created a ground-breaking concept to reduce landfill whilst using it to generate create green energy (green hydrogen).  Our first commercial-scale plant is set to be in action by the end of 2023, expanding across our other main plants during 2024 and 2025. Importantly, we’re on track for ZERO landfill from ASR within four years whilst simultaneously providing power for our facilities with excess power going back to the grid. 

A further example being our collaboration with Renault Trucks which has also seen us co-design a bespoke electric skip loader vehicle, delivering the UK's first 100% electric skip-wagons for use in daily operations servicing commercial and household clients.

Where would you like to see Recycling Lives in the next three to five years?

The nature of Recycling Lives is to constantly evolve. Where waste is a commodity, the opportunities to innovate and grow are plentiful. So, our workforce needs to be able to constantly adapt, embrace change, and understand that social purpose behind it.

It is imperative we keep the big picture in mind - to grow and increase environmental sustainability at the fore. Over the last 18 months in particular, we have transformed how we engage and care for both people and the planet and have a clear set of sustainability targets to meet by 2025 and onwards, which we are on our way to achieving.  

Going forward, we aim to continue growing and increasing environmental innovation using circular economy solutions to make our overall process greener and more energy efficient, with a long-term aspiration to significantly reduce landfill, emissions, and overall carbon footprint in the move towards Net Zero. ​ We are committed to leading this transformation within our sector and pioneering more innovative recycling methods to reduce environmental impact. Together, making small changes leads to a big difference.


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