After an enforced two-year hiatus, we’re delighted to be back with a new instalment of PlastikCity on Tour. Our next stop was in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, to meet with Aaron Williamson, Director of Business Development at Vanden Recycling.
Vanden Recycling, from its site nestled in the Cambridgeshire countryside, is a recycling company on a mission. What was clear from meeting the Vanden team and visiting their offices, walls adorned with company values and mission statements, is that this is a very passionate and purpose-driven company with ambitious goals within the world of recycling.
We were fortunate enough to be invited to the Vanden site to catch up with the team and learn more about the company and how it operates. After a site tour and explanation of its processes by Site Team Leader Lee Crown, we sat down with Director of Business Development, Aaron Williamson, to discuss the company’s successes, plans for growth, and its strong culture and philosophy.
Vanden UK recently celebrated its 10th Anniversary but is part of the Vanden Group – a truly global recycling business headquartered in Hong Kong with local offices in UK, Finland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, UAE, Hong Kong, Australia, and more. Vanden Recycling is on a mission to be the company that creates the most value from plastic waste; a decade or two on, after dropping out of their studies to build the foundations of Vanden Recycling, the founders are certainly well on their way.
In a world where plastic can be seen as a dirty word and where sustainability is high on everyone’s agenda, it’s clear that Vanden provides an essential service, helping the country and industry reach environmental goals and furthering the use of plastics within the circular economy. The company acts as a crucial link between waste generators and plastic product manufacturers right around the globe, ensuring the successful recycling and reuse of plastic material wherever possible.
Vanden sources its waste plastic from plastics manufacturers, plastic converters, fresh produce companies, food manufacturers and waste management companies, and at its Whittlesey plant, just outside of Peterborough, this plastic is collected, sorted, and recycled. Vanden operates four recycling lines, with networks of conveyers linked to shredders and granulators, all fitted with the latest separation and magnetic technology to remove all contaminants from the plastic material. The result (after a lot of noise) is bags full of pure plastic flake, which is ready for quality control before being dispatched to plastics manufacturers to turn into new plastic products. Thus, continuing the circularity of the plastic material.
Vanden’s trade arm deals with many grades of plastic, including ABS, HDPE, LDPE, MDPE, PC, PET, PMMA, PP, PS and PVC. At their UK plant, the focus is on PET, PP, HDPE, ABS and PS with around 30 metric tonnes being processed every day. Each conveying line is dedicated to one material grade at a time, to avoid any cross-contamination and to ensure a consistent and high-quality product at the end of the process.
At this point in our site tour, graciously delivered by Site Team Leader Lee Crown, it became clear how vital quality and traceability are in the overall process. Lee explained how each bag of final product is sampled at ten different stages of the filling process and sent to the on-site QC lab for inspection. Here, important qualities such as the MFI (melt flow index – a measure of viscosity) is recorded and monitored to ensure a consistent final product, essential for the moulders, the end-users of the new material. Samples from each batch are also stored on-site for a minimum of six months after the flake is dispatched to manufacturers, so a complete audit trail remains intact.
With global brands all taking a strong stance on sustainability and the recent introduction of the UK Plastics Packaging Tax (which requires at least 30% recycled plastic content in plastics packaging from April this year), brands not only want to be reducing their plastic use to meet sustainability goals, but the bulletproof audit trail at the Vanden site means that importantly, if any questions were raised about the origin of its plastic material, brands can prove their credentials too. The demand for high-quality recycled plastic flake has also skyrocketed in recent years, so facilities like this will only grow in importance in years to come.
After the site tour, we sat down in the Vanden offices with Aaron Williamson, Vanden’s Director of Business Development, to discuss what has been a turbulent few years in the raw materials and recycling sectors and to learn more about Vanden’s plan for continued growth and expansion.
We asked Aaron to summarise the key services Vanden provides and how these services are impacted by the company’s culture:
“As well as the recycling facility we’ve just seen, there are other arms to our business. Firstly, international trading, and education and knowledge transfer, which is also a huge part of our company culture.
“On the trading side, we operate internationally, with offices all over the world, and trade in more than 100 grades of plastic. Our quality control and unrivalled traceability ensure that our customers receive the best service and complete visibility and transparency over the destination of their scrap, or the origin of their recyclate, which is essential for customers today.”
Vanden has been in the business of buying and selling plastic since 2005 and has extensive knowledge and experience in international end markets. With experts operating around the globe, the company truly has a worldwide reach, meaning it is one of the world leaders in plastics trading due to its unrivalled market access.
Aaron continues: “Education is also a key part of everything we do. We have a huge amount of talent and knowledge within the business, which we leverage to educate and inform our customers and the wider industry, with the goal of maximising plastics recyclability. This covers everything from providing our own staff with comprehensive training, including full rotations throughout our facilities, to developing training programmes for manufacturers and their staff, to maximise their value and volume of plastic available for reprocessing. We advise our customers on how to implement collection and logistics systems, conduct on-site workshops and training days and can use our expertise to engage with the entire plastics supply chain.
“It all comes back to one of our core mantras: plastic scrap is not waste, it’s a valuable commodity. We spend a lot of time and effort spreading this message and trying to divert as much material as possible away from landfill and back into new plastic products.”
Next, we asked Aaron what it is that sets Vanden apart from its competitors:
“Delivering certainty. Vanden takes ownership of the entire process from the moment we visit a customer’s site to pick up the material. All quality issues, all the legal aspects, all the logistics, collection and distribution are handled in-house. Anything we can do to make it easier for our customers by utilising our expertise, we will endeavour to improve!”
“We also have a heavy focus on quality and traceability, and this allows our customers to follow the entire journey the material has been on, with total confidence.
“Every new relationship starts with a site visit, where we gain an understanding of the business needs and assess where we can make a positive impact on supply chains and waste streams. Vanden organises all on-site collections, including the delivery of stillages to use to store the plastic waste as it is created, and any necessary training that’s required, to maximise the recyclability and availability of the material. Customers can also trial our material before going ahead, to ensure full transparency throughout the entire process.”
Another benefit discussed was that Vanden has ‘boots on the ground’ across the entire UK, meaning that a local waste expert is never far away. The Vanden team has grown a huge amount in recent years, almost becoming a running gag between ourselves and Vanden’s marketing team with the number of key senior hires or news of expansion into new markets or territories, all within a few years. Luckily, this is precisely the positive industry news we want to promote!
As well as being a positive sign for the company, its encouraging for the future of the recycling sector. Recycling infrastructure and recycling rates within the UK are often maligned topics by the media, but speaking to people like Aaron and seeing Vanden’s ambitious expansion shows that there are people working incredibly hard every day to change this perception to improve the real-world situation in the recycling industry.
Next, we asked Aaron what Vanden’s plans were for the next 12 months:
“We are aggressively establishing a larger geographic footprint both here in the UK, sourcing and selling recyclable plastics and recycled resins and flakes into manufacturers.
“We’re currently hiring for various UK positions, both in commercial roles and in support functions. So, if you’re a passionate and driven waste professional, please visit our careers pages on the website to see our available roles!”
We asked if Vanden were attending any events or trade shows in 2022:
“We’re exhibiting at the Plastics Recycling Show Europe, held in Amsterdam at the end of June. We’ll also be attending other UK exhibitions, including Lets Recycle Live in September in Birmingham, and Plastics Live in Coventry in July.
“Another favourite is the upcoming Waste World Cup, a hotly contested mixed 6-a-side football tournament contested by companies in the waste and recycling sector. The event raises money for Waste Aid UK, and we’ll be taking part in the summer with some unfinished business from last year to take care of against Grundon!”
“We also recently celebrated Vanden UK’s 10th Anniversary, which was a great event we could enjoy, get the entire team together for, to thank them for their part in our success.”
Finally, we asked Aaron if Vanden had a company philosophy or mantra:
“Yes! This is something that’s a big part of our company culture, and something we’re very proud of. Firstly, our mission statement, as set out by the founders long ago: To become the world’s largest recycled plastic commodities company, and to be the company that creates the most value from plastic waste – by producing quality commodities and products, or by empowering others to do so.
“We also have the 6 Vanden Values, which are: Teamwork, Added Value, Growth, Ownership, Enjoying the Ride, and Gratefulness.
“We created these values to engage the entire business, and to educate our customers. The values shape our culture, determines our future direction, and acts as a reminder to why we exist.”
Thank you to Aaron, Lee, Amy, and the rest of the Vanden team for their hospitality and for the insights you provided during our visit. Hopefully we’ll be back soon to see more expansion, and future anniversaries!
Look out for the next edition of ‘PlastikCity on Tour’ to learn more about our excellent UK based partners.
There are now well over 260 active partners represented on the PlastikCity site, many of which offer highly specialised products or services to our sector.
During our everyday course of business, we’ll be making a point of visiting as many of these partners as we can and using the time to better understand what they offer the market. We’ll then showcase them through this ongoing series of articles.
Maybe you can benefit from their services!