As a family-owned business that has served the Australian community for now, over 36 years, AA Recycling has established itself as a leader in auto and metal recycling. Its Managing Director, Emma McIndoe, shares her journey into the auto recycling business and provides insights into it. She highlights the importance of sustainable vehicle recycling practices, the need for industry-wide collaboration, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the ever-evolving automotive landscape.
The Founding and Operations of AA Recycling
AA Recycling P/L & Pick-A-Part is an Australian family-owned business established in 1986 by my parents, Peter & Jan O’Callaghan, which has proudly served the community for over 36 years.
Our business has two parts: Auto recycling (Pick-A-Part) and Metal recycling (AA Recycling). I am the leader for all aspects of our businesses and responsible for all strategic and operational decisions. AA Recycling operates across two locations in Victoria, Australia and has an online store.
In 2019, I took on the role of Managing Director. I feel privileged to now be the custodian of our family business, to continue the legacy that my parents created whilst I juggle raising my three children with my husband, but always reflecting on how my parents paved the way for me all those years ago.
We pride ourselves on customer service, industry knowledge and making it easy for customers to interact with us.
We are industry leaders in the automotive and metal recycling fields and are continually looking for opportunities to innovate and find new ways to recycle and reduce the amount of material going into landfill.
My parents first started working in the automotive field in 1976, creating a business called ‘Apollo Gas’ that focused on the wholesale distribution of LP Gas Equipment. The business grew to be nationwide.
In 1986, my parents saw an opportunity to expand into the auto recycling field, purchasing an existing business. Soon after purchasing, my parents renamed the business ‘Pick-A-Part’, putting the ‘what we do’ into our name, allowing greater brand recognition. After a successful animated TV ad in the late 80s, we quickly became a household name in the Greater Melbourne area, where many people spent hours picking parts for their cars. The TV ad is still fondly remembered, and often, people still burst out into song when I tell them where I work!
In 1999, my parents opened a second site on the opposite side of Melbourne, where there was great residential growth, and once again, they saw it as an opportunity to expand, grow the business, and have a second site accessible and closer to growth areas.
In the early 2000s, the next growth opportunity was identified, this time in metal recycling, and a weighbridge was installed at our Kilsyth site. We buy and sell all types of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, along with being a certified weighbridge, where we can provide weighbridge certificates for all types of vehicles (new, modified, etc.), caravans, industrial trucks/machinery and even horse floats!
For over 20 years, we have supported a number of local sporting clubs with sponsorships. We are also active in supporting Royal Children’s Hospital through various initiatives – donating $25,000 over the last 18 months, working with the CFA/MFB donating cars for training and donating car parts to the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC) for their apprenticeship programs.
Navigating Technological Disruption and Embracing Change in Our Industry
It seems that all industries have been disrupted in some way due to the increasing speed of technological advancements over the last 10-15 years. For our industry, these technologies range from car part identification & market trend tools, auction comparison tools to CRM and point of sale. This, coupled with decreased shipping costs and increased competition in this space, The landscape for our industry and opportunities have significantly changed.
Being able to utilise my 20 years of experience in a corporate background (Global Consulting and Financial Services) was critical as I moved into taking over the reins of running our family business in October 2019. As the new custodian of our thriving family business, I had big shoes to fill; however, I felt confident that I could hit the ground running, given my background and the fact that I had grown up with the business, spending time after school in the factory, whilst waiting for my parents to finish work for the day!
The EPA Permissions System: An Exclusive Framework in Victoria and its Implications for the Australian Vehicle Recycling Community
The new EPA permissions framework works alongside the General Environmental Duty (which came into effect on the 1st of July 2021). So far, the new mandatory permissions framework has only been introduced in Victoria. The Permissions system aims to ensure performance standards and conditions are met across a range of activities. There are three tiers of permissions based on the level of risk to human health and the environment; these also consider the overall volume held onsite/size of the business:
- Licenses for high-risk prescribed activities.
- Permits for medium-risk prescribed activities.
- Registrations for low-risk prescribed activities.
This risk-based approach means that the EPA can then identify different levels of risk with the right balance of permissions and conditions.
In our auto recycling industry, the key benefit of the new permissions systems is to assist in ensuring all end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) are channelled into the correct businesses for recycling – Businesses that hold EPA permission and that dismantle in line with the EPA Auto Recycling Guidelines (which were developed in collaboration with the VACC and released on 2020).
In my opinion, we still have a way to go to ensure this is happening for every ELV. However, at any industry level, we are having very constructive conversations with Insurers, Auction houses, Manufacturers, etc., in regard to how best to implement the checking of permissions for every ELV sale.
The key issue if an ELV is not decommissioned by a permissioned business is that the risk to the environment could be far greater, the recycled parts are not put back into the local market, and the value from the scrap metal (from the car body) is not realised.
I strongly believe that the permissions framework should be rolled out Australia-wide, and until it is, the industry as a whole will be losing value, and those that are operating with the correct permissions will be disadvantaged.
Driving Sustainability and Inclusivity: Advocating for a Cradle-to-Grave Process and Advancing Gender Equality in the Automotive Industry
I am a member of the VACC Auto Dismantling Recyclers Division Executive Committee, and I have had the opportunity to be actively involved in working with the EPA team to provide feedback and industry insights for the new EPA Auto Recyclers Guidelines.
Being able to advocate and promote the need for a cradle-to-grave process for all vehicles is critical, not only in Australia but globally, if we are to achieve our climate targets, but mostly because it’s the right thing to do; Reuse parts where we can, and recycle the metals for repurposing. A win-win!
Also, being a female in a male-dominated industry, my role is to pave the way and make it easier for all future automotive industry leaders. Through the work that I do on the VACC Dismantling Executive Committee, the Women in Automotive Group (VACC initiative), and broader conversations with other Automotive industry representatives, there is a real recognition from the industry’s senior leaders that there is an imbalance of diversity (greater than gender) at all levels, and it has impacted decision making over the years. I do think that this is rapidly changing, and it is exciting to be part of that.
Exploring the Evolving Significance of Vehicle Recycling in Australia: Overdue Shift and Current Impetus
Yes, speaking to my industry colleagues who have been in the industry for 25+ years, this topic has been #1 for a long time. I think that we currently have the ‘perfect storm’ – many factors occurring at one time to allow for the value in our industry to now be front and centre. These factors range from the increased focus on climate change, accelerated approach for a transition to EVs, the value of recycling and reuse (which I think is being driven by our millennials!), and also the value of keeping the final car body (steel) onshore for repurposing.
We currently have an average of 800,000 vehicles that reach their end of life each year in Australia, and there is a massive opportunity to put quality recycled parts back into the industry and recycle the car body to be purposed. On top of this, there will be an exponential increase in this number as we look to expedite our transition to EVs over the coming years.
In my view, to reach these goals and fulfill the potential, buy in from all parts of the value chain is required, along with Government support. We are currently undertaking a piece of work, off the back of a Federal government grant, around a product stewardship program for ELVs. This work has buy in from all parts of the value chain, along with all key industry bodies. There is a real opportunity to create change, and this is exciting.