Jeremy Freeth has a wealth of experience in the recycling industry, having set up Thamesdown Glass in Wiltshire around three decades ago. Later renamed Thamesdown Recycling, the company’s focus has shifted and it is now involved in the supply chain for a wide range of recyclable materials.
When we meet, Mr Freeth a huge Gloucester rugby fan since his days playing the game at school is keen to point out that it is the exact day on which England beat Australia in dramatic fashion at the world cup 10 years previously.
But while he may no longer play his beloved sport anymore, he still goes to see Gloucester matches when he gets the chance. And, he also gets to enjoy the great outdoors surrounding the Thamesdown Recycling site, situated just a few miles north of Swindon.
“I’ve lived and grown up here my whole life and I love it here, generations of us have lived here locally,” says Mr Freeth.
Indeed, Mr Freeth and his family’s house is also situated close to the Thamesdown site, meaning a 30-second commute to work in the morning. Its unlikely many in the waste management industry would choose to live where they work, but Mr Freeth extolls the virtues of the place.
“It’s a lovely location, right on the edge of the Cotswolds,” he says. “There were obviously the commercial benefits of Swindon and we’re on the dual carriageway between the M4 and the M5, so to get goods vehicles in and out is easy.
“Cornwall is beautiful, but what’s the good of being down in Cornwall in this game? No disrespect to Cornwall by the way. But this is a good location.”
With a good head for business, since the day Mr Freeth left school he has worked in recycling. Indeed, after working at his father’s waste paper company for several years, he set up Thamesdown when he was just 21 after recognising the opportunities in recycling glass and other materials.
He says: “At 21 I fancied having a go on my own doing glass. So I got a loan of 15,000 from the bank, a second-hand lorry and started up Thamesdown in 1984.”
He continues: “Obviously my family were involved in recycling, but I wanted to do something on my own to prove myself and also to prove to my father that I was capable of doing something. And the glass back then hardly anybody was doing glass recycling.”
Mr Freeth started out putting bottle banks in Swindon, adding more in other nearby towns. But it was only after his father sold the waste paper business that Mr Freeth decided to expand Thamesdown Glass to other materials.
“It was obvious that the way forward was to do a lot of different recyclables rather than just one so we just dropped the word glass in the name and called ourselves Thamesdown Recycling,” Mr Freeth explains. “The idea being that you could go into companies and be able to offer the complete service, or as complete as possible.”
And this is the essence of the business Mr Freeth runs today collecting or accepting a huge range of materials and finding a buyer for them elsewhere. For example, Thamesdown accepts Tetra Pak packaging, is an approved supplier of Tata Steel and also supplies aluminium to Novelis.
“Were always looking to new challenges. The idea is we can go to different companies and pick up all the different things plastic, steel, aluminium, glass the whole lot,” says Mr Freeth. “We pick up plastic coat hangers from shopping centres for instance not something we process here but we can build up a load to move for reprocessing.
“All we are really trying to do is make it easy for the company to get rid of everything responsibly and on the same vehicle.”
Thamesdown has its own fleet of vehicles, but the firm generally collects material relatively locally, although it doesnt collect waste and recycling directly from households.
“We have a sorting line here because most of the material we collect is already sorted, but we do have the ability to separate cans and plastics with eddy current separators, he explains. We try and encourage separation at the source and a lot of it is commercial premises we’re taking it from, but we do take door-to-door and bulk material from some local councils it’s right across the board.”
To give an idea of the breadth of material dealt with on a monthly basis at Thamesdown, Mr Freeth estimates that the company sends out: 200 tonnes of aluminium; 800 to 1,000 tonnes of steel; 1,000 tonnes of paper; 1,000 tonnes of glass; 1,000 tonnes of organic waste for anaerobic digestion; 500 tonnes of plastics; and 100 tonnes of wood.
Mr Freeth continues: “Every waste management company can’t have a depot everywhere, so we try and work with all of them, or as many as we can, because we do things that they might possibly not be able to do locally. And that’s what it’s about nowadays; it’s about reducing the mileage and keeping the service moving really”.
Additionally, there is a destruction side to the business, whereby Thamesdown takes in out-of-date stock and seized counterfeit goods. While the various forms of packaging are sent for recycling, the content largely food and drink is siphoned off using a machine and sent for anaerobic digestion at nearby facilities, such as GENecos Avonmouth plant.
“We have planning permission for an AD plant on our site here, but whether we actually build it or not, I don’t know. When we were looking at it, there were hardly any about. But now my concern is that there’s going to be almost more AD plants than material to feed them with for a while,” he says.
“Five years ago I wouldn’t even know where the nearest plant would have been, now there are two AD plants within four miles of here.”
Thamesdown doesnt operate any council contracts to collect material from households, but Mr Freeth does feel residents could do more to aid recycling.
2I must admit I think this industry does too much to make it too easy for the general public, he explains. It’s all too easy we’ve got all these people running about picking up boxes outside your front door. If they were able to go to the supermarket and purchase it when it was full, then why can’t they take it back? The expense involved in all these vehicles running around all the housing estates with two or three people on obviously it’s different for some people in different areas, but I think we’ve got too soft.”
Having started out recycling glass via bottle banks in the 1980s, Mr Freeth also has concerns that glass can contaminate other materials in fully commingled collections.
“Glass is something I think you really need to keep separate, he says. In some collections, its all going in together with newspapers, magazines etc. It just seems a shame that glass has gone in there because it contaminates everything else, and even the best sorting line in the world just doesn’t seem to get it all out.”
More importantly though, he argues, a more consistent method of household collection across the UK would help both collection businesses and residents.
“To say what would be the right way forward would be very dangerous, because no matter what you do there always seems to be different method of collecting. There’s not one council that does the same as the one next door we’re a bit at the hands of what the councils want to do or the politicians want to do.”
But overall, with three decades experience in the business, Mr Freeth is fairly happy with his lot – looking to the future, he just hopes for more of the same.
“The big waste and recycling companies do their thing all over the country,” he says. “But if they’ve got some work locally a couple of tonnes they want us to handle for them that’s how we can survive as one of the small ones really.”