The White Stuff

Written by: Geraldine Faulkner | Published:

C&I waste specialist Tom White Recycling is building a new MRF in Coventry – giving it a chance to add to the company’s beloved JCB fleet. RWW reports

On the streets of Coventry, Tom White Recycling is known for its distinctive bright red trucks, whereas Ian White, the company’s MD, is more concerned about the business’s green credentials.

“We want to be recognised by our clients for our high levels of recycling in the commercial and industrial waste sector,” he states unequivocally. And to prove the company’s intent, Tom White Recycling is investing over £10 million in a new materials recycling facility at its transfer station at Stonebrook Way, Coventry.

The “all new” facility will provide the waste specialist with a further 7,500 square metres to process and segregate up to 104,000tpa of C&I waste.

Another hugely significant colour for the waste specialist is yellow, particularly when it came to his father Tom, the founder of the company, who sadly passed away in 2010. “We used to laugh with my father about his buying and selling of vehicles policy. Basically if it was yellow, he wanted it,” says White, who recalls his first use of a JCB backhoe loader in 1980.

“I was driving a JCB from the age of 11-12 years, helping out with the motor-breaking side of the business,” remembers the MD. “I used to hook engines out of cars with the backhoe on an early 70s JCB 3C, because it was the easiest way to get engines out. I grew up with joysticks in my hand and I’m not talking about an Atari games console,” he grins.

Since then, Tom White Recycling’s enthusiasm for JCB machines has not abated. If anything, it has increased. “We’ve looked at everyone else’s products and JCB’s loading shovel range is leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else’s,” adds White.

Adding to the mix

The new JCB additions to the Tom White Recycling fleet for the new MRF are comprised of a JCB JS20MH T4i material handler complete with a rotating selector grab attachment and two JCB 437 T4F wheel loading shovels built to a Wastemaster specification complete with super-high lift arms.

As well as a predilection for JCB technology, the rapport that has built up between Tom White Recycling and Gunn-JCB, the company’s JCB dealer, has played a huge role in maintaining a good working relationship.

“I look after the waste machinery sales,” says Ian Watson at Gunn-JCB, “while our West Bromwich depot takes care of service and breakdown repairs to all Tom White Recycling machines. To ensure instant access to all our machines, we operate the JCB LiveLink system, which is JCB’s own telematics system which monitors the kit; how many hours, whether an engine is over-heating, etc. The customer, JCB and the dealer all have access to the system. You simply tap in the serial number and all the information comes up straight away. The team at Tom White Recycling also knows that if there’s a problem they can ring me, or a member of the Gunn-JCB team, at any hour of the day. For us, there is no passing the buck and we are 100% committed to the client.”

Gunn-JCB’s machines will be kept busy once the MRF has been fully commissioned and is up and running. However, like many waste specialists, Tom White did not start off in waste. White again: “In 1981, my father was a successful motor salvage dealer and we couldn’t get a reliable waste service so he bought a skip lorry and the family skip hire business started from there.”

Nor was it the only focus of the business.

“We’ve always had more than one string to our bow. In fact, we supplied armoured vehicles to the world’s media agencies up until a year ago. Firstly in Bosnia throughout its troubles and more latterly in Iraq. I was in Baghdad in 2003 for the fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue and we were still going out after that and commissioning armoured vehicles for the BBC. It was how I met the likes of Kate Adie and Martin Bell,” reminisces the MD.

Company history

In 1988, Tom White merged both sides of the business, and his two sons, Ian and Paul (a chemical engineer), joined their father in the family business.

Their first venture in business saw them build the first Tom White Recycling transfer station that is still in operation now.

“I spent three months with the previous owners of the transfer station learning the ropes,” says the MD. “At the time, we had a JCB 806 tracked excavator that got very tired towards the end.”

After the two brothers joined the company, it went through a rapid expansion until the downturn in the early 1990s, recalls White. “Since then with a shift towards recycling it has consistently grown with my father working in the business every day until 2000.”

The site at Stonebrook Way, which plays host to the new MRF, used to belong to Veolia so it is no stranger to waste handling.

“This project has been a two-and-a-half-year process,” continues White. “We could have finished it six months ago, but I wanted to be absolutely certain about the materials we were going to generate. In fact, the Blue Group who installed the MRF went through many revisions with us. The original proposal had been to install a plant that was 30-40% more expensive, but then we were struggling to find markets for the materials.”

White pauses to reflect on those months.

“We pride ourselves on producing a high-quality material, but it got to the point where we were generating too many contaminated products so we decided to go down the option of picking lines for quality control. Essentially, we didn’t want to have a one-stop shop, but a two-stage process in case we lost something we wanted,” continues the MD.

With materials coming from construction sites, hospitals and commercial enterprises, the company doesn’t handle household waste, so investing in machines that can deal with a blend of materials is essential.

“I think that a lot of plant designs go wrong by thinking they can treat everything,” opines White. “We try to make sure we have the broadest intake yet being specific at the same time as to what goes in the front end of the process. We have an exceptionally high recycling target and are achieving over 95% recycling rates. That shows how the hours we have experimented at our previous plant have paid off.”

All the effort goes into maintaining high-quality end products that are baled for reuse and are also used in the cement industry for fuel. “We have offtake deals with several facilities that take us into early 2018, and that gives the company a massive direction, but that still leaves us with a shortfall of production capacity,” states the MD, who in typical forthright fashion adds: “We will need to build another MRF with at least another 104,000tpa capacity by the end of 2018 to meet the interest we have already.”

Planning ahead

Undaunted by the prospect of another major building project hard on the heels of the one he has barely completed, White’s eyes gleam with anticipation. “We thought this current project was initially out of our league, but then it was within our reach and now we are looking at facilities being nine times bigger than before.”

There is no doubt in the MD’s mind that the future lies in waste and recycling rather than the skip hire side of Tom White Recycling.

“Skip hire has notably gone from being the most profitable side of the business to the least profitable in my time here, and the hard decisions made back in 2008 to change from skip hire to recycling and commercial waste was very difficult and felt like turning your back on an old friend,” he smiles.

The MD admits that: “It will be an absolute pleasure to open the doors of the new MRF. We work in a 30-mile radius from this site which includes Stratford, Leamington and Leicester.”

Knowing your limitations, but not limiting your possibilities, is clearly a successful modus operandi for the family-run business.

So how does the MD find time to chill out?

Ian White confesses to enjoying a stint on one of the company’s JCBs from time to time.

“I love to work on the machines, but I don’t get enough time. When you work on a 360 you go into a different state. You are relaxed, calm and focused on what you’re doing, especially in a vehicle with so delicate a mechanism.”

Now there’s a thought: JCB could add Zen moments to its machines’ catalogue of benefits.

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