Newry family business cleans up when it comes to recycling

We are investing in a sustainable future – ours and everyone else’s, says founder

The O’Doherty family of Re-Gen Waste recycling company in Newry: “We’re not here to make a quick buck.”

The O’Doherty family of Re-Gen Waste recycling company in Newry: “We’re not here to make a quick buck.”

 

Throwing your rubbish in the wrong bin occasionally might seem like an innocent enough mistake to most people.

But you better not let Joseph Doherty or any of his four siblings catch you at it.

Because for Doherty, his three brothers, Colin, Aidan and John, and his sister, Celine, rubbish is a family obsession and one that has generated a €20 million turnover in the last 13 years.

Their Newry headquartered company, Re-Gen Waste, has processed 1.5 million tonnes of what most people see as rubbish – but to the Doherty siblings is a cash generator – since they got together to establish the company in 2004.

The five had already grown up in one successful family firm – their father Joe’s construction business – and had all worked together previously.

But they were keen to “spread their wings” and go out on their own and after much research, spearheaded by Joseph, they decided to set up a waste management company.

“At that stage I was just 24 years of age and it was a big thing but I had all the family expertise around me and I had done the research and knew that there was an opportunity for us. I had travelled to some of the top recycling facilities in Europe and beyond and I knew what we had to do and in one sense I think the timing was just right for us in 2004 to do it,” Doherty says.

The five decided to develop their own purpose-built facility in Newry which now operates 24 hours a day and employs 160 people.

Initially Re-Gen started in mixed dry recycling, such as paper, cardboard, tins and plastics, but it quickly responded to a growing demand to expand its services.

“We didn’t want to base all of our business just in Northern Ireland, so we took a very early decision to look outside Northern Ireland for opportunities, from the Republic to Scotland, Wales and England, and that has paid off for us because we weren’t dependent on winning big contracts locally – we had to go out there and get on with it.

“When we first started, Newry Council had 400 blue recycling bins but within three years this had grown to 15,000 bins and this was a trend which was being repeated in towns and cities across the UK and Ireland and we kind of adopted the ‘build it and they will come’ approach to our facilites,” Doherty says.

After they had built up the mixed dry recycling side of the business, the five then decided to expand their operations and moved into producing processed output materials from waste. This is now exported to 27 countries including China and Turkey and also into a waste to energy operation where Re-Gen recovers energy from rubbish that is normally just thrown away and produces Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF). They also took the decision to invest in their own fleet of high capacity trailers, now totalling 160, so that they were always in charge of the logistics side of the business too.

Cleaner future

According to Doherty his and his siblings’ key objective is to “transform” waste, whether it is domestic or commercial, into a “sustainable solution” and in the process protect the planet.

“We learned a lot from our father about what it takes to run a family business. We care about getting it right and at the heart of our business is a commitment to genuinely make things better – to create a cleaner future and of course reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill each year.

“We have a hands -on approach and we pride ourselves on what some might say are old fashioned values: honesty, openness and customer service. We’re not here to make a quick buck. What we are doing is investing in a sustainable future, ours and everyone else’s,” he says.

He and his siblings invest 10 per cent of the annual turnover on research and development and have established their own engineering team to stay ahead of the competition.

Re-Gen’s latest capital investment project – a new glass screening plant at their Newry headquarters – has just helped them land a £10 million (€11.5 million) contract with Belgian glass recycling specialists, High 5 Recycling Group.

This means that 95 per cent of all glass collected by the Newry group will be processed “back to bottle”.

Doherty is wary however about what Brexit could mean, not only for his family business but also for his workers’ futures.

“We are familiar with an ‘environmental border’ as such, moving waste between the Republic and Northern Ireland, and we strictly follow all of the regulations required but if Brexit resulted in new border tariffs then that could be an issue for us.

“We also have many people working for us, who are not from Northern Ireland, who could be affected by any changes, but we are not spending all our time worrying about Brexit – we can’t be sidetracked by that – we’ve got to keep our focus on the business ” he says.

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