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Paper recyclers told to cast a wider net to avoid vulnerability

We have not been blind to the fact that paper is not growing anymore. The answer is simple: diversify,’ Cees van Berkel, managing director of CVB Ecologistics told the annual Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference in Prague. He also said that businesses had to keep an ear to the ground for a good opportunity: ‘We recently acquired a paper mill in France which was not doing very well.’

Van Berkel added that anyone in the scrap business would attest to ‘learning to cope with the things that come along’ and, for CVB Ecologistics, that meant diversifying from handling only paper to processing other materials such as plastics. Having other waste streams to fall back on can make all the difference, he said. ‘It will keep business prospects healthy. It makes sure you are not completely vulnerable.’

Market dip

Even so, every five years or so, there is a dip in the markets and prices fall so there is no escaping the damage entirely. ‘CVB Ecologistics had to cut five people from our head office (from 25 to 20) in recent years. You learn to watch the margins,’ he said. ‘Generally speaking, the volumes are still there, so the depots are still running. Business goes on.’

Investment ‘a must’

The same can be said for family-owned Bolton Brothers Limited in Ipswich, UK. ‘We built a new facility in 2003 for £2.5 million [EUR 2.8 million] equipped with cutting-edge sorting technology,’ said the company’s commercial director Reuben Bolton. ‘You can’t stay behind on the times. We are a relatively small business compared to heavyweight multinationals out there, but we know you must invest and reinvent yourself every couple of years.’

Even so, Bolton believes that, looking back, ‘we didn’t act quick enough and lost a fair bit of profitability’. And he adds: ‘We are much more reactive now.’ Other established local players were not so lucky and had to shut up shop. Bolton echoed the advice van Berkel gave earlier, saying: ‘It is important not to be subsidising one part of your activities with another. All parts have to be profitable. No exceptions.’ 

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