When I was younger and working for the family business, it was very much about getting the waste materials in and making a profit.
Yes, we did extract the valuable materials from the loads, but this was with an eye to getting the most revenue out of the material rather than extracting the recyclates to conserve the environment.
Landfill was the desired method of managing the waste, with incineration (not energy from waste as we now know it) as a support act. There were no recycling centres, apart from scrap dealers, and householders did not have recycling bins like they do now.
I started my working life straight from school, in 1963, when I joined the family business, Robert Deards Ltd, and was involved with the waste sector from the start. It had a large waste management division which I eventually came to head, handling contracts such as the one with London Docks.
I was asked in 1992 to join the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors (NAWDC) as an employee, having been a member since its inception, by two senior industry figures and good friends, Colin Drinkwater and Richard Biffa. It was described as a “one- or two-year job”.
In May 1993 I became executive director of NAWDC and, three years later ,we changed the name to reflect the changing remit and approach of the sector in the UK: the Environmental Services Association (ESA) was born.
Working within NAWDC and then ESA, I have seen many changes. Internally, it has become a more focused organisation, with a greater emphasis on policy issues affecting the waste and resource management industry. In the early days of NAWDC, we had two people working on policy issues. Now at ESA we have five such staff who have clear portfolios to look after. In the early days we tried to cover too much too thinly: now we are focused on the priorities set by the board for us to follow on behalf of the membership.
I am proud to say that during my time at ESA, our remit covered a number of priority areas, from health and safety and combating waste crime, to influencing the European policy agenda and improving recyclate quality, through to biowaste and better communications with stakeholders, the Government and members. ESA’s role is to look after the private waste and resources management sector, and to make sure its views are heard by the Government and in Europe, and the focus on these areas ensures that.
It is the ESA’s relationship with other professional bodies such as the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), and trade bodies such as the Resource Association, Renewable Energy Association and Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association, along with Government departments and regulators, that has developed fantastically during the past two decades and that I am most proud of. The creation of Resources and Waste UK last month, and the closer working relationship we have with the CIWM, is testament to how far the industry has come when communicating with each other and stakeholders.
I have also seen the transformation of the industry in terms of technology, from the days when waste was transported by horse and cart or along canals (which I can just remember) to today, when the industry is filled with advanced mechanical sorting equipment and modern energy-from-waste facilities.
That technology is improving all the time. The idea 50 years ago that we would have MRFs, with materials being separated mechanically – I would have said it would not happen. Waste is now a resource and it is the industry and customers’ role to extract as much value from it as possible. This is where future technology will play a big part.
The waste industry is well placed to invest in new facilities, creating green jobs and boosting local economies. Now that the economy is starting to grow again, provisions to help underpin new infrastructure investment would help stimulate the private sector even further.
I hope the ESA can continue with its hard work representing the industry. The waste sector will always need a trade association and it is the ESA’s job and priority to do that for its members. Building on established relationships, I hope the next 50 years may be as productive as the last.
Barry Dennis, retiring director general of the Environmental Services Association
A member of the Wamitab board since 2003 as a director and honorary treasurer. The close links represent the sector’s commitment to training and improving operating standards.
CIWM president in 2010/11 and board member currently. Chair of the CIWM’s executive finance committee and involved in the ongoing development of Resources and Waste UK.
Lifetime Achievement winner at the 2014 National Recycling Awards in London.