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Dutch multi-metals processor Jacomij turns 50

What started in 1969 as a tiny scrap trader is today a modern and innovative recycling enterprise with operations covering a total of 70 000 m2. Firmly rooted in the Netherlands and doing business all over the world, Jacomij Metalen & Jacomij Electronics Recycling proudly celebrates its 50th anniversary.

This article was published in our lastest issue / Reading time: 6 min.

‘We’ve come a long way,’ says Jacomij’s managing director Erik van den Heuvel, sitting in his office at the company headquarters in Wijk bij Duurstede, a small Dutch town to the south east of Utrecht. ‘See how the business has changed over the years,’ he notes while pointing at big TV screens on the wall showing worldwide, real-time metal markets’ prices and fluctuations.

‘It has all become very much globalised and transparent for all parties involved – from scrap suppliers to end-users. Recyclers are also increasingly challenged by the fact that market changes come at a higher speed and sometimes unexpectedly,’ he says. ‘Even one tweet by president Trump can have major implications on worldwide trade.’

Theo brought vision

How simple things were back in 1969, when Dutchman Isaac (Kees) Monas and German Siegfried Jacob established the joint venture Jacomij which started trading scrap from a 70 m2 office in Amsterdam. ‘There was a phone and telex but no physical scrap stocks,’ says Van den Heuvel. ‘Scrap was sourced within Europe and stayed within Europe. There were no Asian markets as we know them today.’

Erik’s uncle Theo van den Heuvel soon joined the company. He brought vision and entrepreneurship, necessary to expand and diversify the business. The first warehouse for stocks and minor sorting was opened by Theo in Maarssen in the late 70s, followed by a second warehouse in Wijk bij Duurstede. During school holidays, cousin Erik lent a helping hand at the sorting line for 3 Dutch guilders (EUR 1,5) per hour. He joined the firm full-time in 1987, just before a major 5 000 m2 expansion of the facility.

Russian trucks queuing up

Less than two years later, in 1989, the drawing down of the Iron Curtain and the subsequent emergence of free trade with Eastern Europe gave the business at Jacomij an enormous boost. In the five years after the fall of communism, almost 60% of materials received by Jacomij came from Eastern Europe.

‘It was a chaotic time,’ recalls Erik van den Heuvel. ‘Russian trucks were queuing up at our facility and had to wait for days to go back home. Drivers were killing time with barbecues in our parking area.’

An impressive, one-metre-high, bronze bust of Russian revolutionary Lenin still keeps an eye on proceedings at the Jacomij head office, a souvenir of an exciting period in both world and company history.

The proportion of scrap intake from Eastern Europe has since dropped off dramatically, partly due to Russia’s export ban on metal scrap. Even so, it was a major catalyst for the next stages of growth. One of these was yet another expansion – this time of 30 000 m2 – and the opening of an office building in the mid 90s.

E-scrap wave rolling in

It was the time of fast growing electronic scrap volumes. ‘With the millennium coming closer, streams of discarded computers and materials from telecommunication centres were getting bigger and bigger. On top of that, there was the introduction of the Euro. Banks had to get rid of national currencies.

Recyclers like Jacomij were among the first to offer their recycling services. Van den Heuvel: ‘Coins contain high quality copper, nickel and zinc making them wonderful pieces of scrap wanted by the smelters.’

Meanwhile, yet more e-scrap was flowing in. Minor metals gave Jacomij the reputation of being a specialist but it was as an all-round electronics recycler that the company really grew. Since the launch of its e-scrap division in 2007, Jacomij Electronics Recycling, located not far from the headoffice has seen year-on-year growth.

It began relatively small but business boomed from the very start and quickly led to the first, major capacity expansion in 2009 – again 25 000 m2. This was followed by another – 10 000 m2 – in 2014 with the opening of a new warehouse consisting of seven bunkers, each with the capacity to store 2 000 tonnes of electronic scrap.

New era, new challenges

After Theo retired in 2015, Erik took over as managing director. He has been at the helm for 4 years now, aiming high when it comes to innovation and seeking new frontiers. But the opening of an office in Brazil did not have the success Jacomij had hoped for.

‘Initially business was promising,’ he says. ‘But then China started to ban the import of certain non-ferrous scrap materials and we could no longer ship materials from Brazil to China. Business dried up, so in 2018 we decided to stop all activities in Brazil.’

Because of China, Jacomij has seen a major shift in its markets. ‘In 2016, China was our number one. Today it is Japan, followed by Korea, Taiwan and India,’ he says. ‘The upcoming Olympics in Tokyo have been a boost for construction and infrastructure which is clearly pushing scrap demand.’

Smarter technology

Scrap trade limitations in Asia have forced recyclers such as Jacomij to focus yet further on processing, according to Van den Heuvel. ‘With scrap quality becoming more and more important, optimisation of sorting processes has been and will be our top priority,’ he maintains. 

Jacomij is partner in a consortium of Dutch recyclers, assisted by Prof. Dr Peter Rem of Delft University of Technology. ‘By developing and using cleaner and smarter technology, such as artificial intelligence in our processes, we ultimately improve the quality of our materials.’ The consortium has asked the Dutch government for EUR 5 million funding.

A people’s business

Over the past 50 years, Jacomij has been through both good and bad weather. As a specialist, however, the company has proved well able to maintain a strong position. ‘The growth has been incredible,’ says Van den Heuvel.

‘While it’s great to have established a huge company in terms of surface area,  it’s more important that we’ve stayed small in terms of people and relationships. I am proud to have retained our team of 50 employees while building a business and contributing to the environment through sustainable operations and corporate social responsibility. It’s the perfect mix, if you ask me.’

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