Viridor looks to add value to business waste

To extract more value, you need to deliver it too - that's the philosophy of Viridor when it comes to giving businesses a waste management service they can be proud of. Maxine Perella reports

It's always good to see a waste contractor walking the talk. Two years ago, Viridor took the corporate decision to not have any waste bins in its offices - only recycling containers. Universal reaction from staff at the time was that it wouldn't work, but people learnt to adapt their habits and the ethos is now engrained in the company's culture.

Over the past 50 years, Viridor has grown enormously from its humble beginnings as a regional player in the southwest of England into of the UK's 'big seven' waste contractors - who between them, account for 85% of turnover in the sector.

This growth has mainly been achieved through acquisition, but also by organically building on customer service and reputation once a foothold has been gained in a new region. Operationally, Viridor is strongest in the southwest still, and also the southeast, but its reach now extends nationwide - even into Scotland.

The company has an established track record in the commercial and industrial (C&I) market, where it has "tens of thousands of customers" according to regional director, Graham Warren.

"We cover all business sectors - major clients like IKEA and British Aerospace right down to corner shops and ironmongers, and everything inbetween. We're heavily involved as well with commercial property management and also the hotel and leisure industry," he says.

While Warren believes C&I waste arisings are generally on the decrease as more companies start to look at minimisation drives, he sees Viridor's market share increasing in the business sector due to refining its service, particularly for SMEs, and becoming more cost-effective.

"What we see ourselves doing is providing better quality services, so taking a great range of materials to recycle or treat in more effective ways. Also more cost-effective collection methods - all this will give better reliability of service to our customers," he maintains.

He adds that many SMEs are coming under increasing pressure to implement better environmental practices in order to do business with bigger firms. "If you're producing materials for a big food chain or supermarket and you don't have the right environmental standards in place, then it's hard to stay in business."

And with regulation getting ever tighter, Warren is aware that his company has to "help SMEs through that" without commercially disadvantaging them. "There is a lot of advice and support out there for small businesses on waste management," he says.

"You're always going to get one or two where we'd find it difficult to provide a full range of services, where geographically it doesn't make environmental or economic sense. But what we try to do is improve on what was there before. So that waste might have got picked up by a local authority and taken to a landfill a few years ago, but there are more recycling options now - certainly for the more valuable waste streams."

Viridor owns 21 landfills, many of which are nearing the end of their operational life. That said, they remain a good source of renewable energy for the company in terms of generating electricity. But looking to the future, Warren is conscious that a shift in priorities is needed.

"We have a clear strategy to move away from landfills to other forms of treatment," he says. "We are building thermal treatment plants going forward, the vast majority of which will operate on a mixture of municipal and C&I waste. We've also got a range of in-vessel composting plants around the country, plus consent for a few anaerobic digestion plants."

Recently the company introduced food waste collections in London for businesses - organics, Warren believes, has a lot of growth potential. "I'm sure in two or three years' time, alternative treatment will be a cheaper option than landfill, and recycling even cheaper. The landfill tax now is having a significant effect and that is being matched by the increase in value of secondary materials."

And if waste arisings do start to wane on a national level, Warren isn't unduly concerned. "Less waste means the materials just become more valuable. We will look to capitalise on that by providing better value and improving our services in those areas where we operate."

Maxine Perella is editor of edieWaste

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