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Countrystyle Recycling turns Christmas rubbish into useful material as the heart of a 'resource park' in Ridham, near Sittingbourne

08 January 2016
by Chris Price

After the turkey is half eaten, the eggnog half drunk, the wrapping paper discarded and the ghastly socks from Aunty Rita binned, all our festive rubbish is whisked away as if the big day had not happened at all.

Except it did happen and it triggers a busy period at the rubbish-dump-cum-resource-factory run by Countrystyle Recycling at Ridham, near Sittingbourne, where household waste is turned into energy.

“People throw away a lot more food after Christmas, having over-indulged a little bit,” said environment and planning manager Stuart Markham. “We blend it with the green waste to make compost.

The wood recycling facility at its plant in Ridham, near Sittingbourne

The wood recycling facility at its plant in Ridham, near Sittingbourne

“We have to make sure we get that blend right to make the best compost, so if we have excess food waste, which is quite ‘clean’, we bulk it up and send it off for anaerobic digestion to recover the energy out of it and make electricity.”

Turning rubbish into resources has created a micro-economy in this corner of Kent. Within two miles are biomass plant MVV Environment, gypsum supplier Knauf and paper mill DS Smith.

They all buy processed waste from Countrystyle, which has helped the firm grow operating profits by £421,000, or 23%, to £2.3 million.

“The Ridham estate is one of the few examples of a resource park in the UK,” said Mr Markham.

Countrystyle deals with huge amounts of residual waste after Christmas

Countrystyle deals with huge amounts of residual waste after Christmas

Huge machines bundle together household rubbish

Huge machines bundle together household rubbish

The rubbish is then wrapped up in preparation for distribution

The rubbish is then wrapped up in preparation for distribution

“Around us are MVV, Knauf and DS Smith and in the middle is Countrystyle, which takes the waste and turns it into something they all want.

“We sell gypsum to Knauf, wood to MVV and paper and card to DS Smith.”

The waste facility handles 45,000 tons of green waste, which it turns into compost each year. Residual waste, which would typically have gone to landfill, makes up 100,000 tons, as does wood.

However, it is in its gypsum plant, which gets through 40,000 tons annually, where Countrystyle is doing some of its best business.

A planning application for a new gypsum facility next to the main building in Ridham, able to handle 120,000 tons annually, is due to be submitted early this year.

Gypsum, or plasterboard, is collected, processed and then sold to nearby Knauf

Gypsum, or plasterboard, is collected, processed and then sold to nearby Knauf

Gypsum recycling

Gypsum recycling

“We have got to expand gypsum because Knauf want to do more with recycling,” said Mr Markham. “All that relates to more jobs for the local economy.”

Countrystyle Recycling’s figures speak for themselves.

In its latest accounts filed at Companies House, the company grew pre-tax profits to £2.2 million, up from £1.8 million, while revenues reached £46.5 million, up 14%.

Chairman Trevor Heathcote said: “The group anticipates further increases in revenue and profit in the coming years and is stengthening its middle management team accordingly.

“The group expects to continue to expand its vehicle fleet, improving on geographical coverage and density of routes.”

Workers sift through the wood production line to take out unwanted materials

Workers sift through the wood production line to take out unwanted materials

However, making money out of waste is not a licence to print money.

The company, which employs about 300 people, has invested in lots of complex machinery and staff to separate contaminated rubbish, which it says pushes up overheads.

This also means it is unable to be as competitive when tendering for council contracts – and therefore less able to help lower council tax bills.

“Contamination is a big issue for the waste industry,” said Mr Markham.

“Everyone is used to being able to just throw things away, but if we can segregate that waste it has a massive impact on our ability to make a good-quality product.

“The waste industry is a fast and competitive sector. The purer the quality and lower the contamination, the better price we can get for it.”

Countrystyle Recycling manages greenand food waste at its plant in Ridham, near Sittingbourne

Countrystyle Recycling manages greenand food waste at its plant in Ridham, near Sittingbourne

When Mr Markham joined the waste industry a decade ago, about 80% of waste was sent to landfill.

Today, he said about 50% is recycled and about 30% of the rest is burned, meaning only about 20% goes into the ground.

Yet even though the recyclable waste market has grown, fluctuations in the price of materials can affect business.

“We are not at the end of the market – we are in the middle of it,” said Mr Markham.

“The waste industry is a cyclical sector. We are a resource manufacturer, turning waste into a resource.

“The cost of getting rid of material does go up. There has been a crash in the price of commodities.

Countrystyle Recycling environment and planning manager Stuart Markham

Countrystyle Recycling environment and planning manager Stuart Markham

“At the moment, we have to decide what to do with compost. What was £250 a ton last year is now £100 and farmers can’t afford what they used to be able to buy.

“It has gone both ways about four times in my career. When commodity prices crash they don’t come back for two or three years.

“We can all deal with short-term pain for long-term gain but when the economy does suffer in the same way anyone else would because we rely on different aspects of the market.”

UK operations make up the vast majority of turnover at Countrystyle, measuring £44.8 million, compared to £1.8 million for the rest of the EU.

The international figure was down from £2.3 million a year earlier.

Countrystyle Recycling’s figures speak for themselves.In its latest accounts filed at Companies House, the company grew pre-tax profits to £2.2 million, up from £1.8 million, while revenues reached £46.5 million, up 14%.Chairman Trevor Heathcote said: “The group anticipates further increases in revenue and profit in the coming years and is stengthening its middle management team accordingly.“The group expects to continue to expand its vehicle fleet, improving on geographical coverage and density of routes.”

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