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Anthony Sant – New Regulations in Appliance Recycling and implications for the KBB sector

Anthony Sant is joint managing director of Swift UK, a business that has supplied and supported the trade since 1978. Installer Show’s Andy Bishop chatted with Anthony to talk about his KBB journey, his dedication to recycling appliances and new regulations incoming that affect everyone in our industry.

Anthony Sant, Joint Managing Director
Swift UK

Where did you start on your journey in recycling appliances?

Back in 2002, along with my brother I launched a business called The Recycling Group. When the Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) regulations came into force we saw an opportunity and developed a system to recycle appliances like fridges and freezers. We quickly realised that by working directly with appliance retailers and their transport companies we had an amazing supply of items to recycle. In 2004 we secured new business from a company then called Expert Logistics (Iceland’s fridge and freezer business) which was eventually bought by DRL Ltd who sold appliances online and sold through 3rd party retailers such as Sainsbury’s, M&S and B&Q. In turn they acquired another of our customers, before rebranding as Appliances Online, and later AO.com. In 2015 AO acquired The Recycling Group and my brother and I stayed with the business to develop their recycling programme.

Part of the deal for us joining AO was to relocate to Telford and build the ultimate recycling facility to comply with Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations – so we built Big Bertha, a behemoth of a system capable of recycling up to 750,000 fridges and freezers per year, and over time, many millions.

In 2023 you left AO to join Swift. Has that turned out to be a good decision?

Absolutely. Whilst I enjoyed my time with AO immensely (great business, great people), something told me I was ready for a new challenge. I’d known Chris Honer at Swift for many years as a customer and a friend, and he offered me a phenomenal opportunity to join him. Swift is an amazing business, with a history of over 40 years with incredible service and value to the trade. We shared the same ethos of ‘always trying to do the right thing’. Swift has a great deal of trust from its customers and from our distribution centre in Staffordshire, we use dynamic scheduling to deliver to most areas of England and Wales at least twice a week. We are also currently in the process of relaunching Creda and we’ve the opportunity to rebuild a brand that previously employed over 250,000 people in Stoke on Trent at its peak. Exciting times!

You have spent a lot of time in the last 20 years focussing on recycling appliances. Is that something that’s been forced by regulation?

It’s something I believe in of course, but at first for me it was essentially a business opportunity. As time has gone on it became something that I’ve had to do as a supplier of appliances and that continues to this day. It’s not something I can ignore so I think it’s better to be on the front foot and to find the required solutions to comply with regulations.

Is this recycling a complicated procedure?

Yes and no, in simple terms we are separating the good stuff from the harmful stuff but it’s much more complicated than that. The process involves shredding appliances to remove refrigerants, persistent organic pollutants (POPS), pump oil and blowing agents, while leaving valuable materials to be recycled. It’s certainly not something you could do yourself at home.

How are you able to keep on top of constantly changing regulations?

I guess I make it my business to do so. I have always had to deal with Government and the Environment Agency in order to comply, but also its essential to know the direction of travel, what new regulations are coming down the tracks. Obviously, it’s better to be prepared for what is likely to happen rather than panic when it does. It’s not something we can change so we need to understand ahead of time the best way forward for our business.

So, what can we expect with future regulation?

The UK Government is proposing reforms to the WEEE regulations which are likely to come into effect in 2025/26. This will be a significant change for everyone involved, manufacturers and retailers, kitchen installers and fitters and of course the end consumer. Currently old appliances are collected by retailers, typically when new appliances are delivered, however there is a charge to the customer to cover the cost of delivery from their home to the retailer’s warehouse or recycling plant. One of the proposals will be to prevent customers being charged for this service.

How will new regulations make things better for installers and their customers?

The collection recovery cost has led to some confusion as to how to recycle properly and where the responsibility to comply sits. A recent BIKBBI survey found that around 25% of kitchen installers are disposing of appliances in skips or leaving on doorsteps for scrap dealers to collect. Obviously, this is not the way things should be done and there are indeed penalties in place, but digging deeper into the BIKKBI research shows there is a real appetite and understanding from installers to do the right thing. These changes to the regulations should mean this is a much improved and clearer situation for installers with no cost to them or their customers.

So, with these new proposals, retailers will have a lot more responsibility.

If WEEE regulations are changed as we think, retailers would need to collect old appliances for recycling at no extra cost when delivering new ones, potentially requiring a subsequent trip if not possible initially. This will of course lead to operational challenges and financial implications, regardless of their current recycling practices. Sector-wide collaboration and dialogue are crucial, with the UK Government’s ongoing WEEE consultation offering a platform for input until March 7th 2024. It is still unclear what the full impact will be for the sector, but there are certainly likely to be additional costs for any retailer who is unable to collect old appliances for recycling.

You have recently conducted briefing sessions in partnership with DEFRA to outline proposed changes for the KBB industry. How can kitchen fitters and installers find out more about these changes to regulations and how they affect them specifically?

We recently held a briefing session for kitchen retailers to hear directly from DEFRA about the proposed reforms and what they could mean. This briefing was well received as there was a limited knowledge of the reforms and a real willingness to understand more. I think when the results of the consultation become clearer, we will be in a better position to understand the exact implications for installers. In the meantime, more details of what is being proposed can be found here.

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