UP CLOSE: With Simon Webb, MD of Tidy Planet - "I want to help the planet and preserve it the best I can for future generations"

By Rich Wilcock

29th Mar 2023 | Eco and Energy

Simon Webb - managing director at Tidy Planet (Image - Nub News)
Simon Webb - managing director at Tidy Planet (Image - Nub News)

Tidy Planet is a company built out of passion and ingenuity, whose overall mission is to make the world a more sustainable place.

The company has two arms — Tidy Planet Waste and Tidy Planet Energy — plus over 20 years of experience within the waste and recycling industry.

The firm is globally renowned for its innovative solutions, which can tackle some of the most troublesome waste streams.

The firm's managing director, Simon Webb, has been developing and innovating new ways of dealing with food waste for 20 years.

And as manufacturers of sustainable food waste solutions – composting, drying, and, dehydrating equipment – the company has carved out a reputation of being the 'food waste experts'.

It has involved a lot of hard work getting the waste management products to market, alongside many of the other challenges that small businesses must navigate. But as an engineer, these are all challenges that Simon relishes.

Cheshire Business Nub sat down with him to discuss how Tidy Planet was born and how he has traversed some of those challenges.

Was Tidy Planet always the plan? How did it start?

Tidy Planet was one part accidental and one part purposeful.

I've always been an engineer and around 25 years ago, I was working in the pollution control industry when my dad came to me and asked if I could build a mechanical composter for him. I, fortunately, worked with some bioengineers and asked them for some advice. So, with my knowledge and their guidance I built it for him, and it worked well. And I thought that was the end of it really.

A little while later, there was an outbreak of foot and mouth, and that fundamentally changed the way that premises could deal with food waste.

Animals couldn't be fed food waste containing meat or fish anymore, so our in-vessel Rocket Composter was suddenly the perfect product at the perfect time. As a result, we went ahead and worked with Defra to make it commercially viable and finally we could start selling it.

Has sustainability always been a passion for you?

Like anyone, I want to help the planet and preserve it the best I can for other generations. But I am an engineer by my nature, and I love understanding how things work, the logical side to solving problems, and what can be achieved with innovation, so being at the helm of Tidy Planet is a dream come true.

After university, I went to the US and worked in solvent recovery – which was tough, but it gave me a lot of experience, and I think from that kind of background, sustainability does play a big part.

How has the company grown?

We had developed the Rocket Composter and we were doing well with that, but customers were coming to us and saying, we want to get rid of the food waste, but we don't need compost and we can't compost some of the plastics that come with it.

So, naturally, my mind started thinking about what we could do. Then, after a little while we began looking at other ways to deal with this waste. So, we developed our food dryer – the Gobi Food Waste Dryer – which basically dried the waste and turned it into a powder.

This became an odourless biomass fuel that could be used for heating. It really helped to provide our clients with more solutions to the issues that they faced and that was important to us.

The Rocket Composter - The product that started it all (Image Nub News)

Do you plan to grow much more?

We are always looking to the future, I think that's the nature of our business, but we're focused on our products, looking at the design and product development side of things. Both our food waste and energy businesses are strong, and regarding the latter, since 2019, we've been looking at combustion – we're hoping to expand that part of the organisation more.

The Gobi Food Waste Dryer (Image - Tidy Planet)

How does the UK stack up when it comes to sustainability and its attitudes to it?

It's right up there. Certainly, when it comes to innovation, I don't think there are many ahead of us. Germany is advanced and has very similar attitudes.

Our regulatory landscape is tricky, we do make things a little hard for ourselves on that front, but really, I can only think of a few countries around the world that would be on par with us.

How have things changed in recent years, with the global landscape, has it been harder?

Regulation, as I mentioned, is definitely trickier – it's quite difficult actually. But as ever, you learn to work with it. Recently, timescales have got much longer, and that's a challenge, and Brexit added complications to shipping. Because we work with a lot of sub-contractors and suppliers, navigating those issues is a juggling act.

What keeps you motivated?

Getting out of the office and into nature. I am a keen bee-keeper, with six hives currently, so that's a great way to re-energise. I also love mountain biking and getting away and exploring new places.

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