‘Our heart beats for recycling,’ says Caroline Craenhals, ceo of Belgian Scrap Terminal (BST), when talking about her family company. She has a track record of 20 years in the business, during which she has helped move ‘mountains of scrap’. The next generation leader sits down with us to celebrate her firm’s 100th anniversary while casting an eye to a bold, new chapter.
What’s the story of BST?
‘We currently operate five sites in the Antwerp area and process around 1.5 million tonnes of material a year, ranging from end-of-life vehicles to washing machines and other bulky electronics. The funny thing is we started out collecting used textiles 100 years ago. When handing in old clothes and rags, people increasingly gave up their metal scrap. This evolved into our core business and put us on the map for major steelmaking companies in Europe.’
What made you want to work in the recycling industry?
‘BST is a family business through and through. My great grandfather started the business with his wife in 1922, passing it on to his son, and his son after him. I learned a lot from my grandfather as well as my dad, who is 73 now and is still actively involved in the company’s big decisions. Growing up, I saw how much the business meant to him and he always had a way of raising my interest in the dynamic world of scrap, trade, recycling solutions, new business ideas etc. I think it was inevitable that I followed in his footsteps.’
Do you have exciting plans for 2022?
‘Definitely. We have big expansion plans. I can’t give away too many details but we’re investing a multi-million Euro sum in processing even more scrap. I think we need to be ready for different types of products coming into the yard, with different material compositions. The fact is, design is changing, metal and plastic content is changing. Dealing with this efficiently requires additional steps in the recycling line, both at the front and at the back. We’re also investigating how to best implement artificial intelligence at our facilities, both in the sorting process and for those at the wheel of material handlers.’
The company celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. What does this mean to you?
‘It’s an important year for us, for sure, especially following the pandemic which changed the atmosphere at a lot of companies. It’s a good thing we have a reason to celebrate and realise how blessed we are; we’re still standing tall. Not that I ever doubted that. Many things have been thrown at recyclers over the last few decades alone; economic crashes, wars, protectionism, geopolitical games, ever more ambitious rules… it’s a long list and we overcame it all. I think it shows how resilient and vital our sector is. This calls for a nice glass of champagne, doesn’t it?’
How has the pandemic and now the war between Russia and Ukraine impacted your operations?
‘In a way, we’ve seen it all. Challenges we face as a recycling sector aren’t unique. Not now, and not in the future. Covid-19 is the only exception I can think of. I’m glad to say we were able to stay open all throughout. I often compare the recycling sector to a Swiss watch; everything runs smoothly, equipment does what it needs to do, the people involved know exactly what’s expected of them. Then, overnight, someone drops a big bag of sand on the inner mechanism of the watch to see what happens next. That’s how I would describe the chaos and interruptions we’ve experienced over the last two years. We were just about done clearing the sand away when Russia dropped another bag of sand. It feels like a test.’
How would you describe your leadership style?
‘I’m level-headed with my feet firmly on the ground, yet I also dream about what could be. You could say I am practical, but with a soft touch. More than anything, I believe in leading by example. During the pandemic, for example, I made sure to be present on-site myself as soon as it was allowed. I wanted to make sure the crane operators and other crew members felt supported and appreciated. BST is a tight community of people, many whom have worked for the company for many, many years. They know I’m there when it matters.’
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