Nearly a quarter of a million (240,000) metal castors are going missing from the baking industry every year – but where are they going? Paul Empson, general manager, Bakers Basco, warns materials handlers to be vigilant to a potential illegal supply chain in the metal industry.
The global material handling equipment market size is projected to reach $46.23bn by 2027, up from $28.42bn in 2021. And it’s not going unnoticed by unscrupulous waste handling operators. Waste crime is a very real issue; it’s causing a headache for many businesses. And until serious dialogue opens up from those with the ability to make a difference to deter them, it will keep on happening to the detriment of businesses and the environment.
The organised theft of recyclable equipment, taken individually, may not be that valuable, but, in large quantities, it can quickly add up to colossal sums. Just look at the baking industry, as an example. Plastic bread baskets, used by the UK’s biggest bakers to transport bread, are being stolen, diverted out of the supply chain and chipped up for money.
Managing a pool of five million bread baskets is one part of it – but then there’s the 60,000 dollies (the wheeled trolleys on which the baskets are stacked on for easier transportation) that have to be re-purchased every year. Each dolly has four metal castors attached to it, so that’s 240,000 that go missing each year, but where are they going?
It’s clear they are no good to the plastic recyclers, as they’re metal. Or is it the nylon (which the wheels are made from) – which is worth more than plastic in the current climate – that is making the wheels more desirable to nylon processors? Does anyone actually know?
Just like the plastics industry, there’s got to be another illegal supply chain going on here with metal. 240,000 of these things are floating somewhere – but who’s taking them? Who’s claiming them? They certainly aren’t coming back to us. And we are just one small business with equipment that uses these materials. What about the rest of the UK?
It’s worth noting that these castors are quite substantial. When we have them shipped over from abroad to use to manufacture our Omega baskets, you could be looking at 7,420 castors in 20 foot containers. If you do the maths, that’s at least 32 x 20 foot containers worth of these missing castors being stored up somewhere. That’s taking up a lot of space. And if these things are bought at, say, £2.29 per castor, that’s over half a million pounds in losses. Someone somewhere must know what happens to it and are making money from it.
What I do know from what our investigations team on the ground have uncovered recently, that hundreds if not thousands of these castors have been spotted piled up at recycling locations. Unscrupulous recyclers are willingly removing castors (including the nylon wheel attached to them) from dollies and chipping them up before sending onto another recycler.
Our eyes and ears on the ground have found that even those who have been charged for being in possession of plastic baskets are up to something – and we want to get to the bottom of it. For example, one owner of a recycling plant told us that people will often turn up in plain white vans filled with cardboard from shops in a local area, drive them to a weighbridge and empty them at the location. It’s only at the end of the day when the cardboard is being sorted that Omega baskets and wheels are found hidden in amongst the cardboard as a way of increasing the weight on the weighbridge, earning the person some extra cash. And it’s happening in many instances in recyclers up and down the country.
It takes manpower to check each van load – and with no audit trail of exactly what materials are being shared and how much, it remains a mystery as to where these metal commodities end up. But we do know that it’s happening, and recyclers must be extra vigilant to what’s coming through and where it’s coming from. At the end of the day, it belongs to someone and is being traded illegally – whether or not they are taking the parts that or good and disposing of the rest (which has an environmental impact too).
While it might seem like my ramblings are providing more questions than answers, it’s because I just don’t have them. But someone out there will and it’s on all of us working in the materials handling industry to be aware of the problem to be able to find a solution. Our investigations show that there’s another illegal trade going on here with metal castors and wheels – and we must get to the bottom of it once and for all. But we can’t do it alone.