Charity retail and waste management

12/05/2022 09:28

An interview with Mike Nicol from 1st Waste Management Consultants

We are gearing up to launching the Charity Retail Awards entry period in June and thought, in the meantime, we’d get our fantastic sponsor to answer some of the big questions for the waste management sector and comment on the relationship with charity retail going forward.

How long has 1st Waste been in business and how did it begin?
1st Waste have been trading now for some 22 years. Our CEO has a building/FM company that does other property maintenance work and was forever ordering skips via a third party. He considered it a good opportunity to act on behalf of himself and others by setting up a skip brokerage. One thing led to another and within a year 1st Waste was born and the company diversified into general waste and recycling. We have since evolved into a full scale broker now and deal with all types of waste and recycling products and services.

What made you want to enter the waste management industry?
I never really ‘wanted’ to enter the waste sector. I had recently taken redundancy from Royal Mail and was looking for something new. Little did I know then that it would lead to me being in a career for what, I hope, will be the rest of my working life. For a man who usually speaks a lot of rubbish, to work selling it seemed a dream come true.

How many people do you employ? What do you value most about your team?
We currently employ over 60 staff and no member is valued above any other. Each of our team plays a significant role in ensuring our customers receive the best possible service.

What are the three major changes you have seen in the charity shop / waste management relationship since 1st Waste began?
The biggest changes have been driven by market forces and environmental challenges.

1) It is clear that many of the larger charities are looking to have larger sites that are bespoke and offering more than just the traditional clothes and bric-a-brac. Furniture and electrical goods are becoming more prevalent.

2) Environmentally the charities have always been a leader (purely by virtue of what they do in the first instance) however, more recently the focus on avoiding landfill has been driving both the sector and us as suppliers to seek alternative methods of disposal.

3) The one major issue for me is still the problems we have regarding weight of waste. The future of waste is most certainly going to be measured by volume of weight. Finding alternative markets for bric-a-brac is always going to be the utopia in the charity / waste management world.

How did 1st Waste manage during the Covid-19 pandemic?
The pandemic was a real challenge for 1st Waste as it was for most businesses. We suffered a drop in revenue of some 80% as many of our clients are high street based. We quickly moved our operations to ‘home working’ and whilst we utilized the furlough scheme for our sales team, we kept all of our customer services and accounts department team members employed full time. As a business the directors took payment holidays to support our staff and to ensure that as many as possible were kept working on their full-time salary. As the pandemic evolved then we started to increase turnover again as key clients within the ‘fast food’ and nursing home sectors had to increase waste collection services. 

What do you think the future holds for your industry in the next five years?
Ah, the ‘crystal ball’ question. In the waste world the need to recycle is growing on a daily basis. Looking for alternative markets for plastics, card and other products becomes more difficult post-Brexit so I see growth in recycling plants in the UK. This though would be more medium to long term as opposed to short term. Introductions of rules and regulations around the disposal of waste for the hospitality sectors will mean that more onus is put on the general public when purchasing the likes of glass bottles or plastic food containers.  The waste world will change dramatically over the next 5 years, there will be weighing equipment on most if not all collection vehicles and at some point all waste will be based on the weight of each bin. In the meantime, there will be a heavy focus on carbon offsetting and keeping our planet safe. The UK wants to be a world leader in recycling, and with landfill sites nearly all at capacity then we will have to seek alternative ways to dispose of our unwanted goods.

“If the charity sector worked closely together on waste solutions and had a coherent combined working strategy then I believe that there are real opportunities to reduce overall waste costs … This is a challenge that ought to be your biggest opportunity.”

What do you see as the biggest challenges for charity shops in the next five years?
With a downturn in the economy the charity sector will become even more buoyant. If the charity sector worked closely together on waste solutions and had a coherent combined working strategy then I believe that there are real opportunities to reduce overall waste costs. The biggest challenge you have (from an outsider’s perspective looking in) is that there would seem to be an unwillingness to share data and work together to make savings. This is a challenge that ought to be your biggest opportunity. 

What can 1st Waste do to be more sustainable for the planet?
We are already working with all of our suppliers to ensure that we achieve a zero waste to landfill by 2025. This works well for our commercial suppliers but has less drive from our local authority partners. We are actively supporting our suppliers to move to electric vehicles where appropriate and 1st Waste offsets all of its carbon through our partner The Carbon Trust. We actively would support all of our customers too in achieving this goal.  Please just ask me when you next see me. 1st Waste are also ISO 18001 accredited. 

Tell us more about you! What do you like to do in your spare time?
Hard to believe when you look at me, I know, but I am a very keen cyclist and spend as much spare time as possible either in my ‘shed’ on a training bike, or when the weather allows, out and about cycling around the New Forest.  Last year I completed the London to Brighton ride for The Marillac Hospital in Brentwood. I enjoy supporting my children in their sporting activities which are many and various and usually mean the taxi of Dad going all over the place at weekends. (It becomes the taxi of Mum if I can sneak out on my bike though.)

And finally, what do you love most about working with charity retailers?
The people. Enough said really, they’re the nicest I have ever worked with.  Non-judgmental and in the main really good fun. All except Paul Freethy who supports Burnley and is clearly not well!

Thanks Mike! (Below, Mike Nicol’s best profile photo – so he says)