Giving a **it

David Birkett takes a serious view when it comes to waste management, making it his mission to fight the illegal dumping of waste. And his down-to-earth dedication to the cause is earning him continued success in business.

David Birkett of Serious Waste Management believes that waste should be not seen and not smelt.

He and his wife, Joanna, set up their waste management company in 1995 as Envirotech, with a strong environmental ethos. Despite the fundamental nature of the industry he is in, he believes there is no excuse for dirty practices.

Birkett's background is in civil engineering, and his ethics demanded that the company should be totally professional, and that only the highest standards would do. It was renamed Serious in 2003, which allowed him to inject a sense of humour, which he knows is nothing more than basic.

"We wanted an identity which emphasised the company's environmental integrity and which approached sewage with a certain down-to-earth bluntness," he says.
"The dominant sludge-brown and yellow colours and a variety of strap lines, including 'we deal with **it' and '**it happens', build a personality for the brand that communicates honesty and reliability, an image underlined by the name change to Serious."

A Yorkshireman, Birkett does not mince his words and has no sympathy for those cowboys in his industry that cause problems.

"I'd have no compunction in telling the authorities about anyone who thinks they can pollute our beautiful countryside. And if people think they are getting a good deal by having cowboy waste operators to come and empty their septic tanks, then they are deluding themselves. Pollution affects everyone and they will suffer in the end."

As he travels around the country, dealing with pubs, hotels, caravan parks and houses, Birkett is constantly on the lookout for malpractice and frequently uses the camera on his phone to capture evidence.

"We know there are people out there who think they can get away with just spreading raw sewage on fields. And, even though the Environment Agency can impose fines of up to £20,000 for a first offence, the perpetrators have to be caught first."

That is why Birkett has recently been urging people in his local area of Staffordshire, to join him in trying to track down the operators who pollute the countryside.

"We can do this together," he says. "All we need to do is take down the registration number of any tankers out at strange times of the night when the bona fide depots are closed." And, Birkett says, the public needs to ask three questions when an operator offers a cheap deal:
  • Are they registered with the Environment Agency as a waste carrier?
  • What is their Carrier Registration Number?
  • Where will the waste be disposed of, and is the site fully licensed to receive it?
As part of its commitment to the environment, Serious is a corporate member of the Staffordshire and Warwickshire Wildlife Trusts. And it is a member of British Water, the organisation that is made up of leaders from the country's biggest water and waste companies.

Birkett is a member of its influential Packaged Sewage Treatment Plant Focus Group that has just published a Code of Practice endorsed by the EA aimed at raising standards in the industry. (Visit www.britishwater.co.uk to download Flows and Loads - 2: Sizing Criteria, Treatment Capacity for small Wastewater Treatment Systems ( Package Plants ).

He says: "The point about sewage is that no one wants to know about it until it goes wrong, and then it becomes a big issue. There are responsible operators out there like Serious who do the job efficiently and thoroughly and then there will be no smell at all. But to try and empty say a septic tank without expertise, then it will invariably go wrong and everyone will know about it."

Through British Water, Birkett and the Focus Group have worked to introduce a training programme that gives technicians a qualification, the first of its type.
"This means that people can be reassured that the person who is doing the job knows exactly what they are doing," he says. The new accreditation scheme is one of the initiatives being introduced by British Water to raise standards in the industry.

According to Birkett, another way of raising these standards is to have a real commitment to the highest possible customer service. He practised what he preached last year when he had to abandon Christmas dinner with his family because a pub had a blocked drain and a restaurant full of Christmas guests.

"I couldn't ask any of my tanker drivers to come in, so I went, fixed it and got back in time for pudding - and no one in the pub knew there had been a problem. There was no question, it was just something that had to be done."Birkett's commitment and dedication has earned him ongoing and new business among hospitality, corporate and private clients, but his first and overriding concern is for the environment.

"If we get it wrong, and the countryside is infested with pathogens that become airborne during or after the waste is spread, then bacteria will linger in the soil, and nearby water courses will become polluted, killing fish and other wildlife. Those effects will be here long after us, and it is our children who will suffer."

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