EMR: From a family business to a global company driving innovation in sustainability

Ian Sheppard, EMR Managing Director of Metal Recycling 

WARRINGTON-based Chamber members EMR is a business focused on the future. We realise that metal recyclers have a responsibility to take a leadership role in the development of a more sustainable, circular economy wherever they operate.

That’s the idea underpinning Our Decade of Action, the strategy EMR launched last year that sets out a 10-year plan of real-world sustainability targets by 2030, and an ambitious overall goal to achieve carbon net-zero by 2040.

The coming decades hold many challenges for our team and our operations but, by looking back to the more than 70 years of EMR’s history, it’s clear that our business has a long track record of adapting and learning how to thrive in an ever-changing industry.

The story begins with one woman’s dream of a better life for her family. In the 1940s, Winifred Sheppard left wartime London for the relative safety of Rochdale after a bomb destroyed the factory where she worked. With her husband Hubert and children Bob, Stanley, Bert, George and Queenie, Winifred opened the family’s first metal recycling yard, The Shed in central Rochdale.

Since then, EMR has grown to operate across the UK, US and northern Europe but both the Sheppard family and our origins in the North West of England remain at the heart of our company’s heritage.

In fact, EMR has only been officially called “European Metal Recycling” since 1994. Before that the company was Sheppard Waste Recovery, and then The Sheppard Group.

From the beginning, the company has been ambitious about the way it operates. In the 1960s and 1970s this meant investing in innovative hardware such as shears and Bailey Presses with a capacity greater than it needed, planning for future expansion and a changing market.

That ethos survives to this day with new sites such as our new metal recycling facility and ship-loading site at King George V docks fitted with large scale electric power connections in anticipation of the company becoming fully net-zero in the years ahead.

By the end of the 1970s, the growth of the business to multiple sites had become one of its defining features. In 1978 the company gained its second site, a competitor’s yard in St Helen’s and by the early 1980s the company also owned an export facility at Liverpool Docks, providing access to the growing export market for scrap metal. From these three sites EMR has grown over the past 40 years to operate from 160 locations today.

Over the years the company has joined forces with a number of firms with illustrious histories in our industry. This includes George Cohen’s 600 Group in 1987 (including Cox & Danks Ltd, the salvage firm that worked with the Titanic’s owner White Star Line, as well as the British Navy in World War Two). In the early 1990s the business also acquired Coopers Metals, to create the newly-renamed EMR.

Since then, our business has become a world-leading international metal recycling company. We’ve also broadened our expertise with the acquisition of operators from across the market (such as Mayer Parry in 2001 and Mountstar in 2007) or investing in research and development at our innovative site in Oldbury to get us closer to our zero-landfill target.

With the arrival of MBA Polymers into the group in 2010, EMR also moved into the plastic recycling business, further expanding our skillset and moving towards total waste management.

While much has changed since the days of Winifred Sheppard, the thread that runs through EMR’s history is one of family ownership, investment in our operations and always looking beyond the present to what might be possible in the years ahead.

As EMR and the recycling industry faces a transformative couple of decades, it’s this history that makes us confident about meeting the challenges and opportunities the future will bring.


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