Neil Grundon blog: Why we have cardboard collections all wrapped up

Neil Grundon, deputy chairman of Grundon Waste Management, calls for a more flexible approach to the peaks and troughs of the recycling year.

Neil Grundon, Deputy Chairman, Grundon Waste Management
Neil Grundon, Deputy Chairman, Grundon Waste Management

I have a birthday card at home with a drawing of a stick man giving another stick man a present. One voice bubble reads ‘hang on didn’t I buy you this for your Christmas present?’ to which the other replies ‘yeah, I hated it’.

I am reliably informed this is called ‘regifting’.

Given we are already on the way to Spring, it almost seems wrong to mention the Christmas word. A bit like referring to the wireless instead of the radio – which itself is probably now a rather old-fashioned term.

Those who know me will also know that I have never been a big fan of Christmas.

It might be something to do with the smell of stale oranges that always hung over our transfer stations in January; or the one-eyed tinsel-wrapped mannequins that used to stare at me from the piles of Christmas rubbish, when my father and I used to visit the plant just after Boxing Day. I think I grabbed the concept of rabid consumerism at an early age.

These days however, the post-Christmas period has a different meaning. Unlike many companies, our financial year ends on 30 September, so the end of December and most of January is spent analysing recycling patterns for the first three months of our financial year.

The timing dates back to the days when we were predominantly an aggregates company and my grandfather wanted to end the financial year on the high of the summer months, rather than the more dismal winter trading period.

Of course, now that the majority of our company’s interests are in waste, that no longer applies and I have finally found a reason to get excited about something at Christmas.

Stepping back a little further on the calendar – although not as far as that curious TV series Back in Time for Dinner – October, as the first month of our new financial year, was uncharacteristically quiet, so much so that I took to the internet to see what was making a difference.

The answer, as it often is these days, appears to have been that ‘the Amazon effect’ has finally permeated into the waste industry.

Normally, volumes peak throughout October and November, tail off a bit in December and then ramp up in January as people start throwing stuff out.

This year however, our cardboard volumes spiked far more dramatically in October as people ordered their presents early online. I think they must have then spent most of November wrapping them, before all the single men and panicking dads began another cyber-buying frenzy in December.

The result of all of this online activity meant that retailers kept much better stock levels, and commercial waste volumes did not spike as much as usual. The flip side was that instead we were seeing much greater levels of cardboard in the domestic waste stream.

Cardboard for recycling
Times like this provide the perfect opportunity for local authorities to add extra recycling rounds, and quite why they don’t adopt a more flexible approach is always a mystery to me.

When you consider that a lorry-load of recyclable waste costs approximately £250 to treat compared to £1,000 for the equivalent of residual waste – you would think the chance to cut up to 75% off their waste collection bill would be something of a Christmas bonus in itself.

Of course, Easter is now just around the corner, and at Grundon we’re already preparing to offer our customers extra collections to ensure recycled materials can still be segregated and kept out of black bag collections.

From now on, it’s something we aim to do over every holiday period – monitoring data on waste volumes to see where we can help keep customers’ costs down by adding extra recycling collections, instead of simply playing catch up with general waste collections after the event.

It is all part of our remit to be smarter and more innovative in our day-to-day working practices.

In the meantime, whether you are planning an Easter egg extravaganza or see the occasion as a chance to hand out yet more presents – remember to recycle the cardboard box or, better still, rewrap those gifts in the same cardboard that Amazon delivered them in in the first place.

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