I have written here before about my ten year career in waste management (1990-2000) with Cory Environmental and Onyx UK but I don’t think I really mentioned the Chartered Institute of Waste Management Annual Conference that used to be held every June in Paignton in Devon.
The Institute of Waste Management is a sort of professional trade union. When it started almost anyone could join but over the years it has become an exclusive club that you have to pass pointless exams to get in. Let me put this into some kind of perspective – this is not about being an architect, a journalist a solicitor or a teacher, waste management is about picking up other people’s rubbish and chucking it into the back of a smelly dustcart!
In June 1991 the company (Cory Environmental) made arrangements for all the managers to attend the conference and exhibition and we stayed at the Maycliffe Hotel in St Luke’s Road in Torquay. I had already started to become accustomed to uncontrolled drinking bouts at the expense of the company whilst staying in hotels but the annual IWM conference was the equivalent of the FA Cup Final or the Eurovision Song Contest because at this event everyone went crazy.
We were there for three nights and as well as the ludicrous extravagance of the company with people simply drinking themselves stupid there was unlimited hospitality because all of the big supply companies were there and wanted to impress and sell and were prepared to pay for it. The big event and the one everyone lusted to get a ticket for was the Dennis Eagle banquet because this promised good food and high class entertainment but there was also plenty of food and drink from their competitors Jack Allen and the street sweeping vehicle manufacturers Johnson and Scarab. As well as the big events there were lots of fringe companies trying to impress, wheelie bins, plastic sacks, protective clothing and tyres and they all hospitality budgets that we were eager to help them spend.
I went to the exhibition five times with Cory and then continued to go after I had left and moved to Onyx UK. When we weren’t hanging around suppliers looking for free hand outs we would spend lunchtimes at the Inn on the Green and consume more beer and charge it to our company expense accounts.
I didn’t complain of course because Cory and Onyx were equally unfathomable when it came to spending unnecessary money. We stayed in expensive hotels and hung out in bars and nice restaurants but what was better about Onyx was that once a year we all assembled at Waterloo station and they put us on Eurostar train and took us through the tunnel to Paris for an annual conference. One year when they were really showing off after buying out a competitor they took us to the Moulin Rouge for a special treat and we had champagne to drink and watch an entertaining stage show. And they called this work!
Even with poor financial performance the Company kept spending unnecessary money and one day in February 1997 my boss Percy telephoned me to tell me that he had heard of a new type of refuse collection vehicle with impressive labour saving innovations that offered huge operational savings and that he was interested in finding out more. He asked me if I would be prepared to visit the factory where they were manufactured and give him my opinion. To be honest I had very little interest in bincarts or how they are made but fortunately, before I could decline, he happened to mention that the factory was in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America and as quick as a flash my lack of interest transformed into complete and total enthusiasm. Did I want to visit Phoenix to see some dustcarts? You bet I did!
I couldn’t believe my luck and enjoyed four days in the United States where as well as having to visit the Heil refuse collection truck factory, which quite frankly was a bit of a bore, I also got to visit the Grand Canyon and enjoy some top class hospitality. This was a really good trip and on reflection I decided that refuse vehicle manufacture was actually rather interesting after all. We posted the report of our visit (missing out the drinking bits of course) and offered our availability for any similar official trips in the future. This was a good move because the following year I was sent to La Rochelle in France to look at Semat refuse trucks and later in the same year I went to Milan to see the Brivio factory. It’s amazing how interesting refuse trucks can suddenly become when there is an all expenses overseas trip involved.
Later the Company set up a centralised procurement unit under a greedy little man called Rob Stubbs that saved the best gigs for themselves and that was the end of the factory visits and the overseas travel but believe me I enjoyed it while it lasted.
I continued to go to the IWM conference and exhibition even after I left Onyx UK but to be honest without the heavy drinking at someone else’s expense and the hospitality which wasn’t really extended to local authority delegates it all began to lose its appeal and the very last time I went was 10th June 2003.
I don’t think the IWM has a conference and exhibition any more but they were extremely good fun while they lasted.