Back in 1984 waste management boss Steve Crook was taking his first steps into the workplace.
It was a year of forward thinking and prediction – 1984 was, after all, the title of George Orwell’s prophetic novel. The year was filled with curiosity as to what tomorrow’s world might possibly bring.
The first UK mobile phone call – on a phone the size of a briefcase – was still a year away. It would be fully eight years before painfully slow dial-up internet access arrived, and a further ten before a relatively small business called Apple unveiled its MP3 player, the iPod.
As changes arrived one after another, it became obvious staying on top in the industry meant keeping one eye locked on the technology of the future.
Thirty two years on from his first job in 1984, and Steve is now head of Ellgia Recycling – the Cambridgeshire-based waste management business he built up from scratch in 2011, and which now boasts a £20m turnover.
From one man and truck to a firm that spans three locations, employs 130, and has around 80 trucks of various types and so many skips he’s almost lost count.
So how has he done it? “I made a decision to be different,” he explained. “I went in for investment in technology – real time technology, so I can give our customers real time information.
“It means we offer more than just a ‘pick up your waste and take it away’ service, and the technology we have differentiates us from the competition.”
The latest technology is at the heart of the business. There’s an online portal for customers to log in to check their accounts and trace where each element of their waste ends up.
Then there are electronically generated bespoke reports that make compliance with environmental legislation simple and cost-effective. Drivers are equipped with handheld PDA devices, and there’s also paperless ticketing and online accounting at the push of a button.
Accurately records information
A pay-by-weight system uses container weighing and identification technology so customers only pay for what they dispose of. It accurately records information including: waste type and weight; location details; date and time; container size and type.
And it’s not showboating with technology for its’ sake, stressed Steve.
“It helps customers manage their waste situation,” he said. “They can see where their waste is going, and it helps them see where they can improve.
“Large building companies want to know specifically by material what percentage is recycled, and how it’s broken down. Maybe they don’t need all the technology we are offering right now, but at some point in the future that might change – and it’s here and available.”
Apart from the healthy turnover and rapid expansion, another sign of success is the number of awards the business has collected. Last year Ellgia topped four categories at the Ely Business Awards: Business of the Year, Medium Business, Customer Service, and Steve was named Business Person of the Year.
A healthy position to be in and, perhaps, not one that even future conscious Steve might have envisaged a few years ago, after he took the decision to sell an earlier business to waste management giants Viridor.
Having cut his teeth for around 15 years working first with Biffa and then Shanks, he left to form recycling business, Anglia Recycling. Part of the deal with Viridor was a role for him in the commercial development.
“I worked for them for six months, until I realised I was basically unemployable,” Steve added. “I found I liked to make my own decisions.”
He left, and opted out of the daily grind completely. However, the time out made him realise two things: he didn’t like golf, and he did like to work.
“I started again. I rented some offices, one roll on/roll off truck, and my old sales director came with me along with a driver.”
From a small base in Cambridge, Ellgia – named after daughters Ella and Georgia – grew. Three recycling businesses in Lincolnshire became part of the firm in its first year, another four in other locations the following year.
By March 2014, the business was at its’ current headquarters in Ely, Cambridgeshire, and had taken over Bell Waste Control in Scunthorpe, a waste management business serving 2500 customers across North Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire with a 50 year strong heritage.
Ellgia now serves domestic and commercial users in the east of England, across Lincolnshire, Humberside and East Yorkshire. Services cross the waste management spectrum, from food waste which is delivered to a nearby Biogen plant for bio energy and bio fertiliser, to mixed recycling, plastic and glass collection, domestic skip hire and demolition clearance.
Ellgia is hitting a 92 per cent recycle rate – nearer 98 per cent at their Scunthorpe operation.
“We’ve grown organically,” added Steve. “We’re not just buying up businesses. I’ve invested in our sales force, and brought in two new directors.”
Technical director Cameron Murdoch has 25 years’ operational and consulting experience, and has worked with the United Nations Development Programme and the BBC. Operations director Jack Lavington is from UK giant Certas Energy, where he was director of operations for England and Wales.
Ever the futurologist, Steve is already eyeing up what might be next, reviewing equipment, analysing efficiency, figuring out how to reduce impact and extract value.
“We can’t take material in at one side and produce some form of rose scented confetti at the other,” he admitted, “but we can look at what energy we use, and how efficient we are. Everyone wins with that stance.”
Yet more technology to enable Ellgia customers’ to keep tabs on their waste, will be in place at the end of the year.
“We’re trying to make ourselves future proof, preparing for what’s ahead. I spend a lot of time thinking of what we need to do to protect ourselves, and stay in front.
“You’re constantly re-evaluating,” he conceded. “You don’t stand still.”
Ellgia Recycling, www.ellgiarecycling.co.uk, is at Lancaster Way Business Park, Ely, Westville Recycling Centre, Frithville, Boston, Lancashire and Bell Waste Control, Winterton Road, Scunthorpe.
Above: Ellgia crew pictured with a new Tana Shark 440 DT shredder at the firm’s Scunthorpe site. The shredder is being used to enhance RDF/SRF production capability and minimise waste being sent to landfill.
Below: Ely Awards: Steve Crook (left) with daughter Ella, Ellgia’s trading manager, and Ellgia Recycling Sales Director Joe Rudd, picking up four Ely Business Awards last October.