Scots recycling firm on using BGF funding to turn profits

Andrew Gerlach of Keenan Recycling helps Jess Matthew from Earthy's Ratcliffe Terrace restaurant in Edinburgh with its food waste disposal. Picture: Contributed
Andrew Gerlach of Keenan Recycling helps Jess Matthew from Earthy's Ratcliffe Terrace restaurant in Edinburgh with its food waste disposal. Picture: Contributed
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In partnership with BGF.

SCOTLAND is gaining a global reputation as the “land of food and drink”. The nation is home to a wide variety of world-famous morsels and tipples, from Scotch beef and Stornoway black pudding, all the way through to Arbroath smokies and Scotch whisky.

But what happens to the leftovers after residents and visitors alike have enjoyed tucking into their meals?

In 2008, Scotland produced 19.5 million tonnes of waste, enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every ten minutes, with households throwing out 630,000 tonnes of food and drink annually.

The shocking amount of rubbish being produced prompted the Scottish Government to launch its first Zero Waste Plan for Scotland in 2010.

The scheme set out a series of objectives, including a reduction in the amount of waste being produced by 7 per cent by 2017 and by 15 per cent by 2025.

Another key aim of the plan is to recycle 70 per cent of all waste by 2025, allowing only 5 per cent to be sent to landfill. But if food waste can’t be sent to the tip, then where is it going to end up?

Leading the fight against food waste is Grant Keenan, managing director at Aberdeenshire-based Keenan Recycling, the largest food and garden waste recycling business in Scotland.

The company was founded in 2001 as a garden waste composting business, but the facility at its head office at New Deer near Turriff, has now grown to become the largest in-vessel, vertical composting unit – in Europe.

Garden waste from throughout the North-east is taken to New Deer, where it is turned into organic compost that farmers can use on their fields, avoiding the need for expensive artificial fertilisers.

If all of the UK’s food waste was turned into compost, more than 1.3 million tonnes of nutrients could be returned to the soil each year.

The firm expanded in 2010 when it started collecting food waste from Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, which it began to feed into its composting plant. Collections are now made from eight councils in Scotland, with Fife becoming the latest to sign up.

The growth of Keenan Recycling’s business shifted up a gear in September 2015 when it secured a £2.2 million investment from the Business Growth Fund (BGF), a £2.5 billion investment vehicle launched in 2011 by five of the UK’s biggest banks – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Chartered – to provide long-term growth capital to small and medium-sized enterprises.

BGF typically invests between £2m and £10m in profitable businesses that are turning over £5m to £100m and are either privately-owned or quoted on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange. In return for its investment, the fund receives an equity stake in the business and a seat on the board.

As part of the deal with Keenan Recycling, Jim Clark – founder of oil and gas waste management company MSIS – joined the board as its chairman.

As well as providing cash, BGF also helps businesses to access advice and expertise through its Talent Network, a collection of experienced business people who can aid its portfolio of companies.

Keenan Recycling used its investment from BGF to expand its business from the North-east into the Central Belt.

The company bought a depot in Linlithgow and a fleet of vehicles to begin collecting food waste in central Scotland.

Since it began operating in the Central Belt, the business has gone from strength to strength.

It now serves 4,000 clients in central Scotland, already overtaking the 2,400 customers for its Aberdeenshire plant.

Over the past year, Keenan Recycling has collected and recycled 15,000 tonnes of food waste in central Scotland, which – if it had been sent to landfill instead – would have generated 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

The carbon saving is equal to taking more than 6,600 cars off the road for a year – if they were lined up bumper-to-bumper and side-by-side, those cars would cover the rugby pitch at BT Murrayfield Stadium more than eight times.

Instead of turning the food and garden waste into compost, the matierial from the Central Belt is fed into an anaerobic digester (AD), a piece of equipment full of bacteria that consume the leftovers and turn them into biogas, which in turn can be used by combined heat-and-power plants to produce heat for homes, low-carbon electricity and bio-methane for powering vehicles. Some of the leftover material from the AD can be used as fertiliser.

“Recycling food waste isn’t just about protecting the environment – it’s also about saving businesses money too,” explains Keenan.

“Once a business – whether it’s a sandwich shop or a restaurant or a hotel – starts to see how much money it’s wasting on buying food that isn’t used, it realises that it could start saving cash.

“Businesses in Scotland also face hefty fines if they don’t recycle their food waste. Any company or organisation producing more than 5kg of food waste each week needs to stop sending those scraps to landfill and have them recycled instead – if they don’t, they face levies of £300 from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa), with the fines going up to £10,000 for repeat offenders.”

Iain Gulland, the chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, has estimated that businesses could save £192m a year if they reduced the amount of food scraps going to landfill.

When you add up the figures for the whole of the UK, that total rises to a staggering £17bn for businesses, homes and public sector sites such as hospitals and schools.

Richard Pugh, BGF investor and Keenan Recycling board member, says: “It’s fantastic to see a successful business from the North-east expand into the Central Belt.

“The next step for Keenan Recycling is its growth south of the Border – given the success that it’s already enjoyed in Scotland, I have no doubt that the services it offers will really strike a chord with firms in England too.”

• Make sure that you separate out your food scraps from your general waste – if your business produces more than 5kg of food waste each week, you need to send it to be recycled, you can’t just put it in your landfill bin. If you don’t, you face a fine of £300 rising to £10,000.

• Avoid contamination – you can’t recycle glass, metal or plastic in your food waste, nor can you recycle large bones or knuckle joints. The less contamination in your waste, the more efficient you will be with recycling your different materials, which will ultimately save you time and money.

• Don’t just stop at food waste – chip shops, cafes restaurants and other premises with fryers can recycle their used oil. Keenan works with Henry Colbeck to offer an oil collection service, which is proving very popular with our customers.

• Don’t put waste down the drain – a ban came into force on 1 January to stop businesses using macerators to discharge food waste into the public sewers, which is an issue for companies that used to put food scraps like potato peelings into their macerators. It’s time to recycle that food waste instead.

• Keep up-to-date with the regulations – it’s not just cafes, restaurants and hotels that are covered by the waste rules. Any business or organisation producing more than 5kg a week is affected – so that means bars, pubs that sell food, hospitals that serve meals to patients, and even schools and colleges with canteens.

• This article appears in the Autumn 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.