Re-Gen Waste Ltd

For the Doherty family travel didn’t just broaden the mind, it initiated a recycling dynasty. It was back in the 1990s that Aidan Doherty travelled to Canada, where he was hugely impressed with the progress they were making in recycling and the importance, even then, that they placed on it.

So a few years later, when Aidan and his siblings, Celine, Colin and Joseph (another brother, John, has since joined the company) were considering what kind of business they might go into, that memory was a key influence in their decision.

Today, Re-Gen Waste, the company they founded in 2004 with no staff or, indeed, plant, hosts the third largest sorting facility in the UK and Ireland for total recycling. Already renowned for innovation, Re-Gen are currently investing in a new state-of-the-art base in Newry for their 300 staff.

Managing Director Joseph Doherty, recently included on the shortlist for the 24th Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, takes up the story.

“Aidan had seen how Canada had pushed recycling to the top of the agenda. We realised it was a very important sector and discovered that, although demand was growing locally, there was no competition. This was a time when blue bins hadn’t yet been introduced here.”

Building a plant was one thing, the siblings had worked in their father’s construction business, which had given them a great education, but they had no experience in recycling at all. However, their initial research was positive.

“The advice we were getting from the experts,” Joseph says, “was that recycling was a fast growing, innovative area, so we went ahead and built the sorting facility back in 2004.”

It was a daunting challenge, but they got off to a good start when they won the recycling contract for Newry Council, just down the road. With positive references from the council, Re-Gen were on their way.

Since then the company has developed into one of Europe’s most advanced waste sorting plants, currently processing over 1.5 million tons of waste from Dry Mixed Recycling - essentially what we put into our blue bins. Continually re-investing profits in new equipment, they now process more than 180,000 tonnes of commingled waste (which includes glass jars, aluminium cans, steel cans and plastic bottles and containers) annually.

They also have an advanced processing plant for Residual Waste (what arrives from our black bins) which recovers any recyclable materials before converting what is left into fuel. This, in turn, is used in the production of heat and electricity and industrial processes such as cement making.

Despite Re-Gen’s success, this is not a sector where you can rest on your laurels. As technology is increasingly enlisted in the fight against climate change, Joseph now travels the world, learning from leaders in other countries to keep the company at the cutting edge of recycling. “I spend a lot of time talking to people, seeing how technology can help us come up with solutions and grow the business,” he says.

With the ideal circular economy, where nearly everything is recyclable, as their goal Re-Gen are not just talking but investing heavily in the future. “We spend a huge amount of time on research and development projects to find the most innovative ways to recycle plastic, paper, steel and glass,” Joseph says. “We’ve just invested in ten new state-of-the-art optic sorting machines, which allows us to do three thousand picks (sorting one kind of material from another) a minute, a huge improvement on existing machines.”

This year Re-Gen announced plans to build a £22 million Circular Economy Resource Park in Newry.

Joseph is confident that we are finally moving in the right direction when it comes to the drive towards total recycling, partly because of the huge impact climate change crusaders like David Attenborough have had in exposing the threat to our oceans from plastic. “That has had a big influence on people,” he says, “but we still have to drive them to make changes in their own life.”

“It’s very important everyone brings their recyclable materials back into the mix. For that to happen society needs to change. That won’t be easy but it must happen to enable the circular economy to succeed.” And that is where Joseph sees the future for Re-Gen.

“We will continue to find innovative ways to turn recycled materials into products that can be used in the Northern Irish and UK markets. Northern Ireland is a global leader in materials handling and I believe that has been and will be a great advantage for Re-Gen.’