Interview with Edward van Reenen – Bywaters
By Jan-Niclas Schindzielorz
We connected with our partner Bywaters from the UK. They are the leading company in waste management and recycling in London and put sustainability first when it comes to their work. We chatted about the long history of their company and what sustainability means to them.
Edward van Reenen, Associate Director of Sustainability & Environment, answered our questions.
Can you tell us a little more about Bywaters? What is your mission?
Certainly – Bywaters is London’s leading recycling company, and we provide Total Waste Management services to over 3,000 customers. We also offer sustainability consultancy services, which assists customers with improving their environmental practices. Our approach is client-facing and customer friendly; whether conducting waste and recycling audits, arranging events, or hosting visitors at our huge recycling facility, we like to get people educated about sustainability and recycling issues, encouraging clients to consider the environment in their workplaces and homes.
Our mission is to deliver the most sustainable waste management service in the United Kingdom, and we’ve built our business from the ground up in support of this goal. For example, we’ve installed a 4,000 solar panel array on the roof of our 10,000m2 recycling sorting facility, and have upgraded our environmentally friendly fleet of 65 vehicles to meet the Euro 6 and Ultra-Low Emission Zone standards.
Bywaters has a long tradition and history. Tell us more about how Bywaters came to be.
While Bywaters has been incorporated for over 70 years, we can trace our history back even further. Over a hundred years, in 1918, John Glover left Lincolnshire and started operating as a sole trader collecting waste in London. Bywaters has been a family-owned business ever since – the Glovers are now in the third generation of the family and lead the business in commercial, operational and charity activities.
The business has grown consistently over the years, and these days we have a strong management team supporting the family and the various departments in the business. Now we have over 400 staff, and our fleet and facility operate day and night. From our origins as a one-man operation to the energetic organization working across one of Europe’s busiest cities that we are today, we’re proud of the progress we’ve made. Today we’re working on the cutting edge, providing specialist machinery and displaying recycling information in near real-time on our online reporting platform.
Why did you start working for Bywaters, and what is your role as Associate Director of Sustainability & Environment?
I started at Bywaters in 2012 after working at the UK environmental charity Waste Watch for four years. My motivation was to continue working in the recycling industry in a position where I could have a direct impact, using the experience I gained from the charity and public sectors. In my role, I manage the company’s sustainability and environmental activities – with a lot of help from a fantastic team!
Our Green Gurus provide auditing, training, and engagement activities to clients, while other team members have a strategic input into Bywaters’ environmental activities and compliance with international regulations, such as ISO 14001 and 50001. Another member of my team leads on Broadgate’s sustainability initiatives and Sustainability Leadership Groups. I still also have an involvement in the business’ NHS hospital portfolio (as I write, Boris Johnson is in care at St Thomas’s hospital, where Bywaters collect and manage all waste streams). Other job aspects include working with key corporate accounts on sustainability projects, developing new business with our Tenders team, planning CSR projects (events, beach cleans, etc.) and helping with staff well-being.
So I’m involved in a lot of areas of the business, but all comes down to sustainability.
Why is sustainability important to Bywaters?
As a waste management company, we get a better view than most of the things that happen when we don’t live sustainably. I think it’s difficult to work for any length of time in recycling and not emerge convinced of the importance of improving our habits! We view it as our responsibility to operate sustainably and to help our clients to do the same, and we’ve built a team that’s passionate about this work.
For us, this goes beyond our environmental initiatives and extends into working to improve the society in which we operate. As a company, we organize a number of projects to fight major sources of pollution and help keep the UK sustainable for future generations. In recent years we have focused our efforts on combatting plastic pollution and reducing carbon emissions, in addition to our long-running ‘London for London’ commitment to keeping the UK’s capital clean and sustainable.
As mentioned, Bywaters has a dedicated team of Green Gurus who act as sustainability consultants for our clients. The business also works with a variety of charities to promote sustainable living and hold events to help those in need. These events range from beach cleans to tidy up our coastlines to help provide free meals using food that would otherwise go to waste.
Who are your clients and why is sustainability important to them?
Our client base crosses all business types and the public, private and healthcare sectors. We provide waste management services to places like the Houses of Parliament, prominent skyscrapers in the city, local restaurants and businesses, universities, key hospitals, and local councils and municipalities.
Each customer has different reasons for sustainability, depending on their audience and motivations. Our corporate customers, for example, are often recognizing that the public expects business to run more sustainably these days, and with our help find that better environmental practices help other parts of the business to run better too. Sustainable credentials can also help to attract more customers and talented employees, elevating the business in other ways.
For our hospital NHS customers, motivations for sustainability revolve more around complying with legislation, not harming the environment, and being sustainable while cutting down disposal costs, so they can operate within their tight budgets. Our university customers are keen to run initiatives with their students and educate the influx of new starters every year and are finding that sustainability is an ever-more important issue around student bodies.
Bywaters has planted more than 1300 trees with Greenpop. Why is investing in ecosystem restoration important to a company like Bywaters?
Ecosystem restoration is important to Bywaters as we recognize the environment’s urgent need for protection. Sustaining ecosystems is key to the continued health of the planet, providing benefits that range from maintaining biodiversity to helping with climate regulation. As a recycling company, we deal with environmental issues every day, and whether in our neighborhood or worldwide we feel it’s important to do what we can to help the environment, not just within the realm of waste.
Furthermore, Bywaters is undergoing a journey to be net carbon neutral by 2025, so the carbon offset element of ecosystem restoration is also important to us and this aspiration.
Personally, I’m a South African ex-pat and knew of the work Greenpop does, so I felt confident recommending a partnership as I knew that Greenpop would deliver value to the environment and local communities.
Where does Bywaters see our world in ten years, and how do you see your role in creating a bright green future for all?
Bywaters sees a world in ten years that has changed course and is steering towards a sustainable future. We hope to see individuals, communities, and businesses engaging more with environmental issues, and working together to solve the problems that we face.
Within London, we see our role as helping to chart this journey. We hope that our fleet of collection vehicles will be hydrogen and electric powered, with renewable energy being used for our operational needs. Ten years in the future we see waste streams looking quite different, and it’s likely that we will be collecting plastic bottles and cans as part of a government deposit return scheme, that incentivizes consumers to recycle 100% of this waste. Due to society’s heightened awareness about these issues, we expect to see that the quality and volumes of the recyclable materials we are receiving goes up significantly.
I see my personal role in this as remaining passionate about the subject. I will continue to talk to and educate people, but also to learn continuously, as things are changing all the time, and sustainability is complex with many new developments to consider. I’m glad that, as time goes on, more and more people are interested in the environment and enjoy having these conversations. I just hope we can collaborate more effectively on sustainability and have global leaders putting it at the center of the agenda. The Coronavirus pandemic necessitates this type of cooperation, and I hope we can translate the pandemic’s lessons into sustainability lessons that last well into the years to come. It is imperative we create a green future.
Learn more about Bywaters and their innovative work in the recycling and waste management sector here.
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