As a society, we’ve become isolated from waste — we think the job is done when the discarded items are sent down the rubbish chute or have a moment of self-congratulation when we remember to put the correct bins out on pickup night.
Following on from those simple household actions is a complex and efficient waste disposal industry which makes important contributions to the environment by servicing the needs of both domestic and industrial activities.
Population growth and urban expansion have become major social issues and have brought about changes in how our waste is handled.
Landfill sites need to be carefully managed, and strategically located transfer stations have become key hubs in the waste management chain.
As an example of the magnitude of the waste management task, the City of Sydney local government area produces more than 5,500 tonnes of waste every day, made up of waste generated at home, at work, by the city’s many venues and events, and during the construction of new buildings and transport infrastructure.
Around two thirds of this waste is currently recycled, yet more than 2,000 tonnes still goes to landfill each day with no further opportunity for re-use, recycling or recovery as a source of energy.
Bevan Tennant started in the waste business in 1971 as a tanker driver for the company now known as Cleanaway.
He progressed to driving front lifts and went to work for Collex (now Veolia) for the next 28 years, first as an employee, then as a sub-contractor with his own 8-wheel Volvo.
This was Bevan’s first contact with the Volvo brand and over the next few years he bought more Volvo 8×4 units before progressing to moving larger amounts of waste from transfer stations.
“I saw an opportunity and cut the umbilical cord after 28 years with Collex and bought my first FH12 Volvo prime mover in 2005 and the business has just built from there,” says Bevan.
Over the next few years, Bulk Waste purchased a number of various European prime movers including Volvos.
“Because I liked Volvo’s,” he recalls. The Volvo relationship was further cemented in 2017 when the successful acquisition of a major contract with Suez waste management lead to 29 new trucks being on a single order.
Since then, the other European brands have been progressively replaced with Volvos.
There are 62 Volvos in the current fleet and the most recent order is for 34 replacement trucks, predominantly FM models with 500hp engines. Bulk Waste’s requirements for its trucks are quite generic in order to keep things as simple as possible.
One bespoke feature, which actually came from drivers’ suggestions, has been the fitting of standardised control boards for the hydraulic connections that operate components such as walking floors in the trailers.
Some drivers had commented that shorter drivers were needing to lift heavy hydraulic hoses above their shoulder heights in order to connect trailers. This raised serious concerns about injuring rotator cuffs, so the Bulk Waste team worked with Volvo and the hydraulic supplier Austec to develop a universal connection panel which was fitted in a lower and slightly angled position to provide better and safer access for all operators regardless of their stature.
The core of the current operation at Bulk Waste Transport involves the trucks taking waste from the transfer stations to landfill sites, recycling centres or green waste facilities. There are also five B-doubles involved in moving timber that has been sorted from waste to be shredded to create a fine sawdust used as an alternative fuel replacing coal for the Boral concrete plant at Berrima in the Southern Highlands.
Wet weather presents special challenges for trucks delivering to landfill sites as traction is limited, frequently requiring bulldozer assistance to get to and from the tipping zone.
This can result in damage to the trucks and trailers, and the build-up of mud needs to be jetted off prior to any servicing. The Volvo trucks are on maintenance contracts that saves the company the expense and complications of setting up its own large workshop and staffing it with the appropriate people.
“Australia runs on transport. I’ve seen, as my generation has retired and gone, there are no young people coming through,” says Bevan, who has more than 50 years of experience in the industry.
“They want to go and drive a computer, they don’t want to drive a truck. “We’ve got to change the image of a truck driver and I believe there has got to be some sort of training, maybe even like an apprenticeship, to try to lift this image,” he says.
Bulk Waste offers good pay and excellent conditions. Yet, it faces the same skilled staff shortages being experienced across the greater transport industry, which was exacerbated during the pandemic.
“I also know what it’s like to be a driver, so I respect that,” says Bevan. “We run everything by the book. We keep people safe, and our drivers are happy with what we do because we do show respect and we don’t ask them to break the law and we don’t ask them to do anything unreasonable. Consequently, we have a very good retention rate.”
Bevan’s three sons work in the business and youngest son Jordan is assuming a larger role in the general management of the overall operation.
“He’s a 2023 version of me,” says Bevan proudly. Jordan initially joined the business in a recruitment role, a function he had performed at his previous employment with a major national company. “I was lucky when I joined, we were in a transitional period, so I learned about the bookkeeping for a few months and also learned a lot of the operational reporting functions,” Jordan says.
“It was a great experience and led me to find what I am passionate about, which is people. “When we first got the contract with Suez we had to find 30 drivers in a couple of months, so I came on board and we managed to get that across the line. We also took on some drivers from a previous contractor and to date I’ve hired every single driver who currently works for us.”
Jordan’s progression has not gone unnoticed.
“His role job has grown since then,” says Bevan. “We’ve got a succession plan and Jordan is my GM and has taken on a lot of responsibility. I may be getting too old, too negative and too cynical, yet it’s my years of experience which gets us to where we are. We work together very well and he puts a more human look on it.”
Jordan has done a good job in creating an environment where everybody is heard. Some ideas are better than others, but Bevan acknowledges that just because he’s the boss it doesn’t mean he knows everything.
“Some of the things we change might start as a joke but they get the thought processes going,” he explains. “As long as you’ve got people thinking we’ll always come up with a better way of doing things. I’m proud we are continually trying to be the best we can be. You can’t do any more than that.”
In support of its drivers, Bulk Waste has developed a good administration team with a strong focus on health and safety which is a major factor of the overall culture of the company.
There are systems in place to ensure assessments and rectifications are addressed as matters of priority, from equipment defects to trip hazards.
“You’ve got to know what’s going on,” says Bevan. “I started small, so I was aware of everything as I’ve grown. If you don’t know what’s going on in your business you’re heading for a fall.”