In 2012, the price of used textiles was at its highest. As one of the UK’s largest textile recycling businesses this was well received by Nathan’s Wastesavers – but it was also welcomed by those intent on stealing from its textile banks located nationwide.
The company was losing some 10 tonnes a week of material, which had a significant financial impact – considering that, even at today’s market value, equated to approximately £3,000 a week. The moral and social implications were also significant, given how the loss was preventing the business from exporting as many recycled products as possible to Africa, Asia and eastern Europe.
A secondary issue related to the design of standard textile banks. They were heavy, unwieldy and were becoming inaccessible to a large demographic of donors who, as a result, were, in effect, fly-tipping by leaving bags of textiles on the floor near overflowing bins instead of correctly depositing them in the banks.
On deciding that both issues were no longer manageable or sustainable, Nathan’s approached container designer and manufacturer Egbert Taylor to come up with the solution. The pair had worked for more than a decade together on the development of a number of innovative products.
Nathan’s had already designed an electronic textile bank, which had no visible lock for thieves to break or hinges that could be sawn off, but it wanted something more secure and even less accessible to thieves.
Egbert Taylor redesigned the locking device along the lines of a car’s central locking system. But it was sensor technology that represented a game-changer.
Working with the R&D team was very much a collaborative process, which meant Nathan’s had full input into the product’s development. It was presented with a series of drawings, schematics and prototypes until it was ready to go live with the solution.
Now, via wireless technologies, the only people who can access the banks are the appointed collectors. When located within a certain proximity of the new banks, sensor technology recognises the individuals and doors unlock, allowing the contents to be collected.
Not only does Egbert Taylor’s locking device prevent theft, but the sensor technology also enables collection teams in a remote location to establish how full each unit is. If full, Nathan’s will send someone out to empty it so that users can continue depositing their waste textiles. If the bank is not yet full, then the company no longer sends out trucks unnecessarily.
Prior to introducing this technology, it was all about guesswork. Now that the company has real-time intelligence, it can be much smarter about how it manages textile collections.
It also knows how much waste has been deposited, when it was deposited and who it was collected by, which makes the process easier to audit. If there is a problem such as a break-in or a fire, it is alerted straight away, and can make a decision as to whether to investigate or rectify an issue based on real and tangible data.
“When located within a certain proximity of the new banks, sensor technology recognises the individuals and doors unlock.”
Nathan’s has rolled the technology out across its sites at Asda supermarkets in partnership with the Cash for Kids charity, largely because they are in high footfall areas. In 2017 it raised £79,464 for the charity and helped to ensure that more than 3,000 children received support.
The company is now hoping that through the reduction in theft made possible via the new systems, it will be able to raise even more for Cash for Kids in 2018 and beyond.
The cost of rolling out the technology across 90 textile banks was in the region of £100,000 but, compared with the value of materials it could lose, the payback period is very fast.
Take Edinburgh, for example, which is one of the business’s largest sites. It could quite easily lose many thousands of pounds-worth of material in one year due to theft at that site alone, so payback for the entire roll-out could be achieved relatively quickly when scaled up across its entire network of sites.
Nathan’s believes this approach represents a sustainable solution in the broadest sense: it saves money via eliminating theft; it reduces unnecessary vehicle movements and the associated emissions; it reduces fly-tipping; and provides collectors with a wealth of intelligence and insight.
It is now exploring rolling out the new banks nationwide. Before it does so, it needs to demonstrate to other councils and their collection teams the benefits of incorporating sensor technology and innovative locking devices as part of their textile collection strategy.
As the benefits are many and so clear, it does not envisage much resistance.
Peter Page is national recycling manager at Nathan’s Wastesavers
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