Joanna Gilroy

Strategic Customer Sustainability Manager, Bunzl Catering Supplies

Environmental Placed by Acre

Waste management wasn’t part of Joanna Gilroy’s job description, that is until she devised a closed loop recycling system for the company that, once fully operational, promises to be an industry first.

Setting the Scene

Joanna works for Bunzl Catering Supplies, the largest distributor of catering supplies in the UK. It was while working on the company’s compostable packaging range and studying for an MBA in sustainable business that Joanna first became interested in the circular economy.

As a distributor of disposable plastic food packaging, waste was already a key part of the Bunzl’s sustainability strategy. However, Joanna found that existing recycling system was ‘leaky’, meaning that valuable material that could have been reprocessed into new products was either being incinerated or buried because current processes are not able to realise the financial value of the resources.This isn’t just bad news for the environment – it also leads to customers experiencing ever increasing waste management costs and risks the over reporting of recycling statistics.

Achieving Rapid Environmental Impact

Developing a closed loop system

After gaining support for a new model, Joanna was promoted and given the task of developing a credible, transparent and cost effective closed loop solution for disposable packaging.

The aim of the project is to work with customers to segregate key materials at the point of disposal and transport these directly to a recycler, bypassing the traditional material recycling facility.

This process makes it possible to record granular data on actual recycling rates and ensure that recycled material is remanufactured back into packaging to be used again and not sold as a commodity to be used for low grade, single use plastics such as traffic cones or computer casings.

Creating a Lasting Legacy

Partnering for success

Joanna set up the ‘Waste to Resource Partnership’ in order to engage the three key organisations in the supply chain needed to close the loop. In 2015 the partnership conducted an influential trial at Lord's Cricket Ground which saw recycling rates rise from zero to 100 percent for all material captured, whilst also reducing costs.

While the process is still in the development phase and won’t be fully operational for another six months, the project has already had a significant impact – raising the profile of effective waste management with customers, transforming perceptions and behaviours.Once launched however, it be the first ever credible transparent and cost effective closed loop process for catering manufacturing in the UK.

Advice for Creating Positive Impact

“Your ability to drive change is as much to do with your tenacity as an individual as it is on what you know.If you want a legacy you need to be disruptive – not everyone will like you, don’t take no for an answer.If you hit a snag, you must have the resilience and creativity to get around it.”

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