Taking on the war on waste
Billions of disposable paper cups are used every year, yet despite the fact they are recyclable, only a small percentage are recovered. In response, a team at Veolia UK joined forces to develop a recycling platform to capture cups across collection points. We met with Andy Lockett (strategic account manager) and Jamie Welsh (national account manager), who designed and launched this innovative service, to learn more about the impact it’s had.
What was the motivation behind this project?
We had a paper-cup recycling project on the backburner for about two years, but in April 2016 we were informed that a national TV show called War on Waste was going to highlight the problem of paper cup recycling.
So the issue became more of a priority for us and our customers.
For a number of years, I’ve been working with Starbucks and Costa, who see their main challenge on the waste side as coffee cups.
When we found out that the issue would be in the press, we knew our customers were going to be knocking on our door for a solution.
What obstacles did you have to overcome?
We began the project through our internal Innovation Den where we pitch new business ideas to our senior executive committee. Our idea was accepted on paper, but then we had the challenge of putting it into practice. We trialled it at the Veolia office in Cannock, West Midlands, to test all the logistics. When we knew it would work, we selected around 20 customer sites to trial the service.
We had to react very quickly. We had only one week to come up with an idea and pitch it. In that time, Jamie and I had to figure out what kind of customers would be impacted and what options there would be for the different needs.
Has it been a success?
So much so that the ‘pilot’ phase ended up being more of a soft launch. Once it was making a positive impact at customers’ sites, we couldn’t then take it away! We’re now collecting cups from 2000–2500 sites and have recovered over 15 million cups. Of these, we’ve recycled more than 100 tonnes – that’s approximately 10 million cups.
During the trial, more and more customers were getting interested, so we basically started to roll it out as a service. At last count, the service now has 60–70 customers, including Costa, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Selfridges.
What was it like working together?
For me, it was a learning opportunity. The questions Andy would ask and the way he would ask them in terms of building the relationship with the customer has changed the way that I approach my own customers. He was really a sort of mentor.
We worked very closely on the R&D stage, all the way through to when we engaged with the customers for the trial. We spoke several times a day to understand the needs of the project. I was continually amazed by Jamie’s reactivity, how much work he does, and the quality of what he delivers.
What are you most proud of?
That this is the first new service that’s been launched in the commercial business in the five years I’ve been at Veolia.
The fact that from pitching the idea, we got to the point where we had a product to deliver in just 12 months. I’ve also been really surprised by the amount of attention the project has received, both in the press, as well as positive feedback from customers.
What are the next steps?
I think this platform has the potential to be a game changer, as it could be used to collect and recycle other types of materials.
I don’t think any of our competitors are thinking of anything like this or are in a position to do anything similar.
The ultimate goal is to send cups to our own facility, so we control the treatment side as well.