Lee Beckett – Business Minds

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This month we talk to a man who admits that his job is rubbish. He’s passionate, knowledgeable and cares a lot about what we put in the ground. He is Lee Beckett, GM of Handybin Waste Services.




Surveying salaries for new graduates always throws up the predictable, such as our overpaid protected species of doctors and other medicos who start on a minimum of $100k. Anyone in the engineering game who can get a gig in mining will start on about a hundred – not bad if you can get it. Then at the other end of the scale are teachers and nurses, who scrape in at a tad over $50k (or about what the Qantas Chief earns in two weeks). Defenders of the system point to supply and demand, except we know the supply of medicos and lawyers is artificially restricted – like the number of pharmacies.

One industry sector that did grab my attention in the EnviroSearchGlobal Survey was environmental compliance driven by strong demand and skill shortages. Mining and resources are leading the charge; for example, BHP is reported to have increased its environmental approvals team from 8 to 30 in the last 12 months. The survey indicated starting graduate salaries ranged from $100k to $120k, reflecting the importance of sustainability as an emerging corporate strategy.

One such business well versed in all matters environmental is the well known Handybin Waste Services – and so they should be. Emptying 80,000 bins weekly and processing 27,000 tonnes of waste annually, they know a thing or two about trash. They also know about the need to look after the environment, and in this context I caught up with Lee Beckett, General Manager.

Lee’s interest in matters environmental started while at school at Woodlawn, leading to Environmental Science at the Uni of Western Sydney. But waste management was not on the agenda until much later and in the meantime, Lee found the time to complete a Masters in Environmental Science.

Local Government Career highlight: City of Sydney Operations Manager/waste and environmental services during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. This meant street clean ups started as the crowds left the city – even if it was at 4am.

Moving forward to more recent times, Lee moved back to Coffs Harbour after 10 years working in Councils around the state, before an opening arose at Handybin – where the attraction of working for an Australian owned company appealed, and it still does. As the boss of one of the largest providers of waste services between Newcastle and the border, Handybin employs a workforce of over 50 – 60 locals and operates a state-of-the art recycling facility in Englands Rd.

While it’s easy to dismiss waste as a peripheral matter, rest assured it’s emerging as a significant operational management issue, thanks to the rising costs of landfill. As you can imagine, Councils will need to locate and commission new landfill (tips) applying the EPA’s environment levy, which is expected to increase to $80/tonne in the next few years. But how much of this is returned to enable Councils to invest in waste infrastructure? “Not enough,” says Lee.

Reflecting the capital and processing costs, normal waste is currently disposed at a rate of $190/t, compared to recyclable material at just $65/t  – sending a very clear message that us non-financial types might even comprehend! You don’t need to be too clever to realise that businesses are being steered (or shoved) towards carbon neutrality, where carbon credits can be bought and offset against operational costs.

Sounds good, but what is the Handybin experience, and what are the implications for the rest of us when it comes to being lean and clean? Lee smiles, as if he was expecting this topic. “We’ve taken the recycling message from home to work in developing an environmental plan that reduces our carbon footprint across our entire operation. For example, we now have more fuel efficient diesel trucks and reduced electricity use, with off peak processing.”

According to Lee, offsetting your carbon footprint can make good environmental sense – while helping the bottom line. Lee is happy to quote the Pet Porpoise Pool as a leading example, where over 80% of their waste is now diverted to recycling.

It was interesting to learn that Australia’s recycled newsprint and plastics have developed exports markets in China and India.

Partnership with Councils and the community is vital to good performance. Coffs Harbour, Bellingen and Nambucca are the 3 best performing local government areas in NSW when it comes to diversion of waste from landfill, as evidenced by the 12,000 tonnes of recycled material every year (or on average – 230 tonnes every week). The ingredients of this successful arrangement are based on a bold system, with a weekly organics collection, an excellent recycling facility and extensive community education and feedback. Lee adds that Handybin never stops learning; for example, auditing contamination of green waste from various areas helps to identify the volume and localities causing contamination (such as plastic bags in the vegetation bin). Offenders: you have been warned!

When we get onto the recent success at the Sunny’s business awards (sustainability, innovation and technology and the award for best business), I ask Lee for his response. “Surprised,” he replied. “There are lots of very successful businesses out there, so to be in their company is pretty good,” he adds, with typical understatement. On reflection, Lee admits that the Sunny’s winners seem to have a common denominator: engaged staff.

I couldn’t let this opportunity go by without asking for Lee’s assessment of the imminent carbon tax. “We’re not looking forward to it because of the additional cost burden – particularly as we are quite a large user of diesel and electricity. Clearly it will add to our costs, which will, in part at least, have to be passed on,” is the down beat and blunt appraisal. “On this issue, there are too many questions and not enough answers,” says Lee, causing me to ponder if the timing is right for the Feds to be imposing more costs on business.

The recycling facility is a must see for anyone interested in this topic, and I was curious to see if there is any truth in the saying that one man’s waste is another man’s treasure. It turns out that a few years ago, a human skull was a rather morbid finding. Fortunately though, a little research helped in identifying the item as a discarded teaching aid from the hospital!

Looking to the future, we can expect a greater scrutiny of what’s going into our organic and recycling bins to check contamination. The Handybin team believe there are still big improvements to be made; for example, on average a tonne of clothing is recovered from the waste every week.

Surprisingly, the waste collection and processing market is dominated by multinationals, so it is refreshing to find that Handybin is Australian owned with a policy of supporting other local businesses – like their 38 trucks and vehicles, which were all purchased in Coffs Harbour.

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