Neil Duncan: "Our ambition is to be the partner of all EfW plants within the UK"

Neil Duncan, Chief Operating Officer of Clearwater Ltd, sat down with Izzy Felton at EfW Net to discuss the business' evolution, the changing landscape of the the waste industry, and Clearwater's ambitions of partnering with EfW plants across the UK.
Neil Duncan: "Our ambition is to be the partner of all EfW plants within the UK"

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Neil Duncan, Chief Operating Officer of Clearwater Ltd, sat down with Izzy Felton at EfW Net to discuss the business' evolution, the changing landscape of the waste industry, and Clearwater's ambitions of partnering with EfW plants across the UK. Clearwater is a leading waste management provider based in Scotland. This year, they are a platinum sponsor of the Energy from Waste Conference, taking place 6-7 March. 

Neil Duncan’s 20-year career in the waste industry has been vast, with experience in acquisitions, plant designs, troubleshooting, training, development, and succession planning. But he noted the most important part of his job, and the success stories he has had in his career, have always been centered around people. “From working as a consultant, moving to operational manager, working with local authorities and now to running the business on behalf of a family – my career has been built around people.”

Clearwater itself, a Scottish-based business created in 1999, was built off the back of the steelmaking industry. Mr. Duncan explained how the company, which was “created from one man's idea”, has gone from strength to strength over the last 30 years. Through investment into new technology, they have evolved to work with not just the steel industry, but also the pharmaceutical, petrochemical, power generation and other utility industries. Now, Clearwater’s focus is on partnerships within the EfW industry:

Our ambition and intention is to be the partner of all EfW plants within the UK."

So what services does Clearwater offer? Clearwater offers a variety of services, from tankers to disposal, plant machinery and vehicles to CCTV drain surveying. With a cohort of 150 dedicated employees in offices across the country, Clearwater can travel anywhere in the UK quickly, making them able to offer emergency services for facilities too. 

Mr Duncan takes pride in the personal service that Clearwater provides their partners. “We offer a service which is always personal,” he noted. “We position ourselves in the customer’s head and ask ourselves ‘What would we want if we were them?’”

Due to this variety of services, Mr Duncan also noted Clearwater’s adaptability to work on different EfW plants with different needs. “We can have one shutdown criteria for a particular company at one plant and then at their other depot 50 miles away it's a completely different criterion. The aim is to get that [facility] ready to go back on to earn money. If our customer makes money, then we're back again to do the next shutdown.”

Clearwater’s ambition to cater for the EfW sector comes from the changes its COO has seen in the waste industry over his career. With the entrance of EfW and a new focus on creating a circular economy, the days of landfills, skip hire and occasional recycling seem to be long behind us. Mr Duncan wants Clearwater to move with these changes:

We’ve seen a lot of the small waste operators getting swallowed up, even in Scotland, by big players in the industry. There’s been a big influx of money put into EfW by Hitachi and various other organisations that wouldn't have been discussed 20 years ago. In terms of dry waste, there’s growth, there’s change. But within the wet side, for us, it's now becoming more about partnering and supporting the EfW market.”

For Clearwater, moving with these changes includes the cultivation of the workforce. When I asked Mr Duncan what Clearwater’s biggest project was, he didn’t refer to a particular partnership or facility, but instead stressed the importance of creating careers for his employees.

The company has worked on creating an academy that allows employees to take qualifications needed to progress their careers in the waste sector. They have also worked closely with the British Armed Forces Covenant and cadets to recruit young people into the sector. “The big project we have within Clearwater is making sure there is a succession plan,” he said. “there's a lot of time and effort put into ensuring that folk have got a career, not just a job.”

Over its lifetime, the company has effectively exercised its ability to adapt to the changing landscape of the waste industry. As a platinum sponsor of the EfW Conference this March, Mr Duncan explained that it is a wonderful opportunity to understand the wants and needs of the EfW sector they wish to adapt to next: We’re not going down [to the conference] with any agenda, only to make contacts with people who we’ve never had the opportunity to speak to.”

Clearwater is a platinum sponsor at the Energy from Waste conference, 6-7 March 2024. For an exclusive EfW Net discount on conference tickets, click here.

Find more content from sponsors and speakers in the run up to the conference in our EfW conference 2024 room

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