Leading excellence: Veolia

Waste Management Review caught up with Veolia Australia and New Zealand’s Marc Churchin to discuss his vision for the newly created solid waste portfolio as the company moves towards a new organisational structure.

Veolia Australia and New Zealand, which offers environmental services across waste, water and energy, has been organised around state lines for decades.

But a recent restructure sees a national focus on each of these business lines and is aiming to propel the company into a new era.

Veolia adopted its new line of business structure at the end of 2019. The change will see senior managers focused more deeply on their area of expertise, with national teams delivering waste, water or energy and industrial services across the country.

Seen as an opportunity to solve the nation’s future waste challenges, Veolia believes the new structure will allow it to better tap into its experience and scale. As a result, it will aim to realise a range of operational efficiencies – ultimately benefiting its customers.

Chief Operating Officer Marc Churchin heads up the National Solid Waste division in Australia. Marc tells Waste Management Review that Veolia customers are demanding a higher level of efficiency, greater levels of service and a more innovative approach to solving their waste challenges. He says the new structure aims to make it easier to deliver on all of these areas.

To that end, Marc’s remit includes solid waste collection services, transfer stations and waste-to-energy (WtE) nationally.

With close to 1000 employees under the solid waste banner, this division is a key part of the business.

Marc will continue to work closely alongside his peers, Tony Roderick (formerly Vic/Tas Group General Manager) and Craig Balthes (formerly Group General Manager of QLD). Tony and Craig now hold the title of Chief Operating Officer for the Energy & Industrials, and Water divisions respectively.

“There’s a need for ongoing collaboration between our business lines, so we’ll continue to work closely together.

“For example, Tony is responsible for liquid and hazardous waste treatment, so there are obvious synergies there. Similarly, there are clients we look after where water and solid waste treatment solutions are part of a larger offering.

“That’s the beauty of having scale and deep expertise in specific areas,” Marc says.

He adds that having a distinct focus allows Veolia to concentrate more on markets, processes and technologies most relevant to its business and customers.

Marc also hopes to be able to bring efficiencies to his business by observing and implementing best practices and creating consistencies by streamlining processes nationally.

“I’ve worked in three or four parts of our business and seen pockets of excellence right across the country, but it’s been difficult to pick those up and try and overlay them in other areas. By going down a national line, we now have the opportunity to do this more effectively.”

LESSONS FROM THE LAND

Marc Churchin has been exposed to multiple aspects of Veolia’s business, including the company’s esteemed Eco-precinct, supported by its mechanical biological treatment facility.

While moving house isn’t always the most enjoyable exercise, Marc has had the pleasure of working for Veolia in three different jurisdictions: Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. He’s also travelled the UK extensively and seen the success of the line of business structure first-hand.

These experiences have given him a well-rounded knowledge of the business and prepared him for the challenges ahead.

“I’m really pleased to have had the varied experiences I have across the whole business – not only locally, but internationally. I plan to bring that to the table when it comes to thinking about how we continue to build our solid waste operations and offering.”

Marc recalls starting his career in the sales team in 2005 at Veolia’s office in Buckhurst Street in South Melbourne, before moving into the sales manager role and subsequently heading up the Victorian commercial services collection business.

In 2011, he moved to Perth in the midst of the resources boom to take up the role of WA State Manager as Veolia integrated its waste, water and energy businesses.

“My experience in WA was exciting. Although it was familiar in some aspects being a city-based operational role, 50 per cent of our overall business emanated out of the Pilbara which was 2000 kilometres north in the iron ore mining areas. We therefore had different market drivers and customers.

“One of the big things I noticed was the focus on Indigenous engagement and employment. We set up a waste management joint venture which is still in existence today. It now turns over $40 million per annum with a local Indigenous group up there, and is a significant contributor to not only local employment, but our bottom line.”

His hard work saw him later promoted to NSW Group General Manager in 2018. This gave him exposure to some new aspects of Veolia’s business, including the Sydney desalination plant and its esteemed Eco-precinct in Woodlawn.

Despite his experience and long list of achievements, Marc is adamant that changes to the Veolia waste business ultimately need to benefit the customer.

“One of our biggest customers is a large government client, and when you go through this type of reorganisation, one of the first big things you do is talk to them about the change and the expected benefits for them.

“And from their perspective, they were really pleased, because they have been previously dealing with up to six different senior managers right across the country. This change means a single point of contact and increased accountability.”

Marc says that another practical example of how the new structure benefits customers is the ability to align its various fleets across the country to one specification of vehicles, simplifying the purchasing and procurement process.

“Instead of having a different fleet, or service experience in say Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane or regional areas, this will start to look and feel the same right across the country, with a consistent and tangible operating rhythm.”

In saying that, Veolia will continue to offer a bespoke service to meet the unique requirements of its customers in various local jurisdictions.

“One of the things that we’re conscious of is not losing that local flavour, particularly in regional areas where we’re very strong across the country,” Marc says.

“But equally in capital cities, having worked in three major national capitals, I can tell you that there is a definite view that everyone is different and each particular jurisdiction across Australia is different.

“Some councils are very keen on food and organic processing, other councils don’t want that, so you have to be nimble enough to meet the requirements of different customers and their expectations.”

He says that having worked in three states allows him to get a feel for what does and doesn’t work in particular areas.

“We have senior managers with a long tenure in the industry that will continue to represent Veolia in those places, so they know the customers and policy makers well and what drives the decisions they make,” he says.

TAPPING INTO EXCELLENCE

Marc says the decision to base the Australian waste business on the UK model makes sense, given the alignment between the two businesses.

For this reason, he says he has continued to draw on subject matter experts in the UK to advance Australian projects.

“I’ve spent a bit of time in the UK and having a look over their business and different activities and I think it’s fair to say it is a very mature business.

“They’ve had WtE facilities running for over the past 20 years based on regulatory triggers that have made it beneficial to do that. The UK also has a number of advanced recycling plants and technologies. While we have some of these emerging in Australia, it’s not to the same degree.”

Following the lead of its UK counterpart, Marc says Veolia Australia and New Zealand is well placed to lead the future transition, with the foundations currently being laid for Australia’s first large-scale WtE facility.

“I think there are a number of exciting opportunities that could be available for Veolia in the next five to 10 years in WtE, and we’ve got access to some of the best talent and technology globally to take advantage of that,” Marc says.

Veolia is keen to think out of the box when it comes to forming partnerships that drive a circular economy. It recently signed a Heads of Agreement with Coca-Cola Amatil to establish a plastic processing plant which would focus on recycling PET plastic soft drink bottles.

This initiative would dramatically increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill. Coca-Cola Amatil has already set the bar with its target of seven out of 10 bottles made from 100 per cent recycled PET by the end of 2019. In November 2019, the company indicated this was on track.

“We also want to be using our expertise with major partners to drive value for them. As an example, the NSW Government is about to launch into their new 20-year waste strategy, so for the last 12 months they’ve been seeking feedback from the industry, councils and others. We’ve played an active role in working alongside the government and helping them navigate the complex waste challenges they’ll need to solve over the next 20 years.

“Looking forward, I believe that one of the things we need to be thinking about is how we build treatment process and capacity to ultimately cope with future demand, rather than simply looking at a particular waste types or waste streams in isolation of this.”

Given international waste bans have opened up sovereign risk, building local capacity is an area Marc feels strongly about.

“If we continue to rely on foreign markets for waste treatment and processing, we’ll face exactly the same problem that happened to us recently where a regulatory and policy change in a foreign jurisdiction meant we had no control over things and it adversely impacted companies and residents locally,” he says.

Whether it’s greater incentives for recycled products, or taxes and levies on virgin products, there are key mechanisms that can help to drive investment in better treatment and processing options. From plastic to organics, liquid and hazardous waste or residuals, Marc says Veolia stands ready to provide support.

“We have technologies right all over the world and in many cases we’re actually technology agnostic. There could be two or three different treatments for a particular type of waste stream, but we work with a customer to figure out what’s best for them. Fundamentally, we’re positioning ourselves for the future,” he says.

“The coming years will prove crucial for the waste and resource recovery sector, so we want to ensure we continue to work with the private and public sectors to solve the challenges ahead.”

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China to eliminate solid waste imports

China has announced plans to completely eliminate solid waste imports by 2020, according to a recent Reuters report.

Starting in July, China will no longer accept imports of scrap steel, copper or aluminium, with the veto extended to scrap stainless steel and titanium by the end of 2019.

Director of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment’s solid waste division Qiu Qiwen reportedly said at a briefing that the ban aims to block the import of waste products that can be sourced domestically.

According to Reuters, since the 1980’s China has taken in hundreds of millions of tonnes of foreign paper, plastic, electronic waste and scrap metal for recycling.

Beijing began restricting deliveries last year, with customs authorities launching a series of crackdowns on waste smuggling, leading to hundreds of arrests.

Earlier this year India similarly announced a ban on solid plastic imports, after the country saw a drastic increase in waste imports as a result of the market vacuum generated by China’s National Sword policy.

China faces a solid waste treatment backlog of an estimated 60-70 billion tonnes, placing the country under significant pressure to boost its domestic recycling capacity.

Mr Qiwen said China imported 22.6 million tonnes of solid waste last year— down 47 per cent from the previous year.

“If solid waste meets the requirements of China’s import standards and doesn’t contain any hazards, then it can be treated as common commodities, not waste,” Mr Qiwen said.

The announcement follows the January launch of the “waste-free cities” scheme, which aims to boost recycling and encourage the development of alternatives to landfill.

Under the scheme 10 cities will be selected for the first phase, with measures to include better sorting of solid waste, improvements in urban planning and the construction of new treatment facilities.

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Solid waste market to exceed $340B by 2024

The global solid waste management market is expected to exceed USD 340 billion (AUD452.8) by 2024, according to a new research report from market research firm Global Market Insights Inc.

According to the report, the solid waste management industry has been growing significantly in terms of remuneration, due in part to increasingly stringent regulatory norms and guidelines.

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The European market is also set to grow exponentially as countries like the UK and Germany adopt new recycling technologies and introduce comprehensive directives to lower air pollution and land usage, according to the report.

It estimates the UK solid waste management industry size will surpass a total processing capacity of over 35 million tonnes by 2024.

The region also has been characterised by the interest in waste to energy (WtE) facilities being set up, the report said. Hitachi Zosen Inova AG has also announded recently to build Turkey’s first WtE plant – planned to be the largest WtE project in Europe with the capacity to process 15 per cent of Istanbul’s solid waste per year.

The report also says that companies like Biffa Group, Hitachi, Veolia, Amec Foster Wheeler, E.L. Harvey & Sons, and Stericycle have been focusing on acquiring upcoming companies to fortify their presence in the industry.

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