Aiming to make waste containers last longer

Written by: RWW | Published:

The waste and recycling sector often seems a lone voice of moderation among the orgy of unsustainable consumption that defines 21st century life in Western European countries. But does the UK waste management industry practise what it preaches in terms of waste containers? Joe Morris reports.

While going about the business of helping save humanity from its worst excesses, what is the waste management industry’s attitude to its own worn-out and unwanted apparatus? If companies like UK Container Maintenance (UKCM) and Taylor have anything to do with it, the outlook will be a fittingly thrifty and responsible one. 


By refurbishing tired and battered waste containers, UKCM now boasts a multi-million pound turnover and 80 employees and all in the space of a mere 15 years. 

Founder and director of UKCM, Emma Elston, tells RWW how helping waste container users such as local authorities save in excess of £50m has paid off for everyone involved and the planet too. 

“More organisations are going down the refurbishment route than are buying new. Here at UKCM lots of our customers are having their current container stocks modified by us. Whether it be a material stream change (new container colour, logos and recycling lids etc), caged sides in four wheeled containers, or a complete conversion of an REL [rear end loader], FEL [front end loader] or RORO [roll on roll off]. Our customers want to use what they have, and we help them do this and save them money,” says Elston.

“Regular maintenance on all waste and recycling containers is hugely important for the safe and efficient operation of the container. Refurbishing your containers is the way forward. Our mission is to bring otherwise redundant containers back into operation, saving our customers money as they don’t have to purchase new.”

Making the most of existing equipment rather than discarding it is a great start. But the road to industry responsibility doesn’t end there. To flourish over the coming years in a possibly permanent atmosphere of austerity and increasing environmental burdens, a forward-thinking waste industry must be capable of reinvention and, if necessary, root-and-branch reform. 

Elston again: “Pressure is mounting on the entire waste industry to transform its corporate social responsibility policy to meet ever-rising government targets and forever-falling budgets.

“Without sounding like the quintessential broken record, recent years have been frighteningly damaging to waste companies and local authorities, and when you couple that with significantly raised government legislated targets, it’s vital that we, as an industry - from SMEs to global leaders - look for new and bold ideas for a sustainable future or risk failure. The key to this in the waste industry is to understand how circular business models can be developed in a way that keeps companies profitable.”

Needless to say, an added benefit of reducing fuel processes is a natural reduction of costs, an area which all companies are constantly reviewing.


UKCM is not the only company to have spotted a keen business opportunity in taking the ‘make do and mend’ approach to an art form. 

While Taylor is perhaps best known as a manufacturer of metal bins, the Worcestershire-based firm is also doing a brisk trade in refurbishment, bringing bins back from the brink for a new tour of duty with the assistance of hard-won technical expertise and some of the most reliable spare parts in the business.  

A spokesman for the company says: “At Taylor we can process up to 1,000 containers a week. This experience, and a detailed understanding of container functionality, gives Taylor a unique ability to provide customers with a safe and reliable service. We also recognise that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to refurbishment is not always appropriate, especially under today’s economic conditions where budgets everywhere are under pressure. 

“As a result, we have introduced a three-tier service offering, where the customer can determine what level of refurbishment and cost is most appropriate to their budget.”

Of course, while a cosmetic improvement is often the most obvious benefit of a high quality refurbishment, continued reliability and safety of operation are as important as they are in a new model. UKCM is keen for clear industry-wide regulations to be developed so that responsible companies can benefit from a dedication to high standards, especially in key problem areas.

Elston again: “There is an obvious lack of agreed standard practice and legislation covering the use of waste containers in the waste management industry leading worryingly to health and safety concerns regarding their on-going integrity and their loading on to and off-loading from collection vehicles.

“This is of great concern to me which is why we continue to contribute to work by the HSE and its Waste Industry Safety Health (WISH) forum on its safe practice guidelines regarding such issues as the operation and maintenance of lifting mechanisms and, more recently, the installation of deflector plates on roll on/off containers.

“That’s just one example of the growing number of key legislative requirements and potentially life-saving requirements relating to the majority of the types of containers traditionally used, which is not publicised currently widely enough.”

When practiced responsibly like Taylor and UKCM, refurbishment is undoubtedly an invaluable tool in the quest to keep environmental and financial sustainability on an upward trend. 

It can never entirely eliminate the need for new products, however, even the most loving restoration cannot grant immortality, and industry needs continue to evolve and expand. 


So the other side of the coin is ensuring that manufacturing keeps waste to a minimum, a fact not lost on bin specialist, Wybone. 

A spokesman for the Barnsley-based company explains how keeping full control of the process here in the UK helps keeps quality high and environmental impact and costs low.  

“We frequently reinvest back into our manufacturing processes enabling us to stay competitive whilst still ensuring we can manufacture a quality product. We work hard to be self-sufficient and keep work in-house, ensuring we are as efficient as possible.

“This efficiency isn’t driven by costs alone, but from a desire to reduce our impact on the environment and improve on our already small carbon footprint. We use renewable resources where possible and scrap is recycled and turned into renewable energy,” says the company representative.

As you’d expect of a self-made entrepreneur whose enterprising nous has drawn numerous plaudits, including Aspire’s UK Businesswoman of the Year, Elston is not short of wisdom to share with those looking to boost the fortunes of their own operations. 

Firstly, she believes that many in the industry would benefit from a reminder that first impressions really do count. 

“While the waste industry is admittedly not synonymous with presentation, I am always struck by the number of businesses who are plainly overlooking a golden marketing opportunity sat right outside their offices or depots. Whether it’s a small waste container kept on the street outside a business, a skip on a lorry or even a 40 foot industrial container, I believe that many industries are ‘missing a trick’ in terms of the impact that a well maintained and signed container could present regarding brand image, recognition and advertising potential,” states Elston firmly.

UKCM’s director goes on to suggest that a confidence boosting front-end makeover can work commercial wonders, even in the no-nonsense waste industry. 

“A unique brand and identity can certainly give you the edge when it comes to attracting investment or winning business, even in a sector as results driven as waste management, because brand awareness creates familiarity and security with the customer, the contractor and even the public. As far as I am concerned if waste is your business then that waste is what represents your business and it’s time to reclaim your bins.”

But at heart, Elston’s secret formula for success is as old as the hills; get the foundations right and everything else will follow. 

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