Timothy Byrne


BFI Waste Systems, (Browning-Ferris Industries), America’s second largest Waste Management company, entered the UK market in the mid 1980’s. Its expansion strategy for the UK market was to acquire regional waste management companies to develop its UK business portfolio.

The first acquisition was Grandmet Waste Services Ltd’s municipal waste services division, known as ‘Wastecare’. This was operating two waste collection contracts at the time: the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the London Borough of Wandsworth. After BFI had acquired it, it rebranded its UK operation as ‘BFI Wastecare’ Ltd.

During this same period, BFI also expanded into the West Midlands area acquiring four regionalised waste management companies specialising in commercial waste collection. These were Adams Waste Services, of Cheslyn Hay near to Cannock, Dial-A-Skip and Weir Waste Services Ltd of Birmingham, and Potters Waste Ltd of Coventry. All four had similar dry waste collection fleet profiles e.g. Dempster Dumpsters, skip loaders, hook lifts (roll-on-offs), trade waste collection vehicles and industrial rear end loaders. BFI resprayed their vehicles and equipment into BFI’S global corporate navy and white colour scheme carrying BFI’s white coloured logo. The company also expanded into the liquid waste business during the same period, operating a fleet of non-hazardous and hazardous 5000 gallon articulated vacuum tankers.

Wastecare won the Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council municipal waste collection contract in the 1980’s. BFI deployed a fleet of Dennis Eagle narrow tracked Dennis Delta 4×2 Phoenix 2M12 waste collection vehicles to provide this service. These were either supplied in open back form for sack collection from households, or were fitted with Dennis Eagle’s pencil bin hoist type equipment for the emptying of one and a quarter cubic yard paladin type containers.

In the early 1990’s, BFI next acquired Packington Estate Enterprises Ltd (PEEL)’s controlled landfill site, situated close to Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre (N.E.C) and Birmingham’s International Airport. This was the largest controlled landfill site operating in the UK. It used its North American sanitary landfill operational expertise and knowhow to operate the site. This landfill provided a sustainable disposal route for Solihull Council’s waste, which was collected by BFI at this time.

In the same period, BFI acquired Thomas Graveson (Disposal) Ltd of Carnforth in Lancashire. This company operated a dry waste fleet consisting of skip loaders, hook loaders, roll-on-offs, rear and front end loaders and helped BFI to expand its operations into the North of the UK.

It was also during the early 1990’s, that BFI updated its dry and liquid waste collection fleets. The skip loaders were supplied by David Mackrill Engineering Ltd-Macklift while the hook loaders were either supplied by Reynolds Boughton or Lacre PDE. The trade waste collection vehicles and industrial rear and front end loaders were purchased from Jack Allen (Motor Bodies Ltd) latterly Jack Allen (Sales and Service) Ltd. Jack Allen’s supplied their range of Heil waste collection equipment to BFI which was already widely used in their operations across the States. Dennis Eagle supplied their range of Dennis Delta narrow tracked chassis with Phoenix 2M series bodies mounted onto them for BFI’S municipal collection contracts. Non-hazardous and hazardous articulated vacuum tankers were supplied by Whale Tankers Ltd of Ravenshaw-Solihull.

In 1991, BFI renewed their waste collection contract with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. There, BFI trialled the first Dennis Delta 4×2 crew cabbed 17 tonne 4×2 Phoenix Twinpack open back collection unit built in the UK for the selective collection of municipal waste and dry recyclables. The trial proved successful and BFI ordered a fleet of nine of them along with three narrow tracked Dennis Elite (1) series 4×2 17 tonne chassis fitted with Phoenix 2M12 series rear loading units, and Beta multipurpose bin lifting equipment. These vehicles were used to collect waste from flats, apartment blocks and trade waste customers. The new fleet was delivered to Kensington and Chelsea in 1993.

Again in the 1990s, BFI acquired Drinkwater Sabey Ltd from Attwoods P.L.C., a subsidiary of British Car Auctions. This business was originally an amalgamation between waste management companies H. Sabey and Co Ltd of West Drayton and W.W. Drinkwater of Willesden. This helped BFI strengthen its operating base in the south east and the south west of the UK. Drinkwater Sabey operated a large dry and liquid waste collection vehicle fleet, waste transfer stations and controlled landfill sites. Furthermore, Drinkwater Sabey operated a number of national municipal waste collection and street cleansing contracts. After the acquisition, BFI dropped the ‘Wastecare’ name across the UK and rebranded to their global corporate identity: BFI Waste Systems. BFI’S vehicle livery also changed to a two tone navy blue and white colour scheme.

In 1998, BFI’S non-American waste assets were sold to French Waste Management giant SITA. This ended BFI’S operating tenure in the UK. In the States in 1999, BFI was sold to Allied Industries and private equity firms The Blackstone Group and Apollo Management thus ending BFI’S tenure of operating across North America.

In conclusion, BFI Wastecare and, latterly, BFI Waste Systems, built up a successful UK business during the 1980s and the 1990s. This was based on both private sector acquisitions and municipal waste collection contract wins. BFI delivered sustainable waste management systems across the UK to both the private and public sectors during this period. It is a pity that BFI’S tenure in the UK didn’t last longer so that, the company could have adopted more of its North American practices in sustainable waste management such as sanitary landfill site expertise.

For more information, contact Timothy Byrne B.Sc., (Wastes Management), MCIWM, ISWA IWM, at 0044 1384 211001 or 0044 7545 616110 or via e-mail at garbage32@hotmail.co.uk.