Tackling business waste from the floor up

We don't just manage your waste, we reduce it too - it's a message that many waste producers want to hear, and one service provider is shouting it loud and clear, as Maxine Perella finds out

A small tweak to production processes can result in big gains for waste minimisation

A small tweak to production processes can result in big gains for waste minimisation

Ian Pearson knows a thing or two about waste reduction. Back in the 1980s, he was a waste manager - "a job title very unique back then" - for a car interiors manufacturer. During his time there, he shrank the company's annual waste costs down from £900,000 to £90,000.

His eye for tweaking production practices to generate less waste has stood him in good stead over the years, especially for his latest role as commercial manager for outsourcer Greenways Waste Management. Greenways prides itself on not just offering a total waste management service to its customers, but stepping onto the production floor to see how waste can be minimised in the first place.

"Designing out waste and reducing it - that's where we've got the edge. Minor tweaks in the production process can generate huge cost savings. There is a big market out there for waste reduction, it's an untapped market, but it's very specialised," says Pearson.

It's this attention to detail that Pearson believes sets his company apart from the large waste contractors, who "are very good at taking away the waste" but have big vehicle fleets to run and to a certain extent, need to tailor their services around route optimisation.

"We don't run any trucks ourselves, we outsource everything. So we can offer a solution that fits the customer's requirements rather than the requirements of a local depot," he explains.

Greenways is a fairly new outfit, set up in 2005, but is already on a path towards rapid growth. It is owned by Impetus Waste Management, which owns various infrastructure - three landfill sites, a MRF and a transfer station. This has proved advantageous as Greenways is now building its first facility, an open windrow composting station, on Impetus' landfill site in Cowpen, Teeside, which should be operational at the end of the year.

Greenways targets waste producers in the commercial & industrial market, chiefly large accounts - companies and organisations with an annual spend of £30,000 or more on waste disposal. It's definitely a growing market - last year, Greenways' annual turnover was £1.5M, this year it's approaching £5M.

The company serves quite a few blue chip clients in the manufacturing and service sectors. I ask him what is driving waste practices within these organisations and he jumps on one word - cost. "Cost always drives it. This year we have done some big contracts which have saved around 30% in costs."

He adds however that customer requirements are changing - more and more are asking for the carbon footprint of their waste operations to be measured as companies are being increasingly judged on their environmental performance, especially by their own customers.

Greenways approach is to spend a few days on-site with the customer, observing how waste flows through their operations and looking to see if more efficient practices can be implemented. One example Pearson gives is an assignment with a leading aircraft manufacturer.

"This company used to spend over £1.5M a year on waste management - there are a massive range of waste streams coming off their site. Their objectives were to reduce costs and carbon footprint, recycle more, and foster more staff engagement with their recycling practices.

"We spent quite a few days on-site with them and saw they had a large refuse truck driving around the site, which was 650 acres - this had a massive carbon footprint associated with it. It was emptying 350 bins every day, but just once.

"We realised that some bins needed emptying more than once a day whereas others just a few times a week, so our solution was to tailor the frequency to the bin which roughly resulted in the same number of bin rounds a day. We also installed waste compactors on-site and got electric tow trucks to pull the bins around to help reduce emissions."

Pearson adds that re-allocating resources more efficiently had a positive knock-on effect for staff - as they saw the benefits, they chose to engage more by segregating their waste so it could be recycled more easily. As a result, 'waste champions' have now been appointed throughout the site.

Since joining Greenways in August 2010, Pearson has helped drive the company forward in many ways and is enthusiastic about the future. He sees plenty of growth opportunities in the manufacturing sector, where more and more companies are looking to put waste management out to tender.

"A lot of customers now are after a one-stop shop for convenience. And what we can do is add value to their business - because we take a step inside the factory, that's a big selling point for us. A lot of service providers talk about it, but don't follow through.

"We can demonstrate to our customers how we've gone further - we can save them more money, and improve their KPIs. We're looking to work as a partner with them, not just a contractor."

Maxine Perella is editor of edieWaste

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