The entrepreneurs who are making money from muck; Three entrepreneurs have tapped into the UK’s waste pipeline and are generating incredible returns by turning trash into treasure

The entrepreneurs who are making money from muck

Three entrepreneurs have tapped into the UK’s waste pipeline and are generating incredible returns by turning trash into treasure.


Elemental Digest was founded last year to help abattoirs turn all their left over blood and bone into something useful: fertilizer.

By Rebecca Burn-Callander, Enterprise Editor

12:01AM GMT 22 Nov 2013

Where there’s muck, there’s brass, or so the old saying goes. And given that we generate about 177 million tonnes of waste every year in England alone, that’s a lot of brass.A nation of coffee drinkers

Last year, sales of coffee outpaced tea sales for the first time in the UK. Research by Allegra shows that the category grew 7.5pc to reach £5.8bn sales in 2012. Coffee-making is highly wasteful, however, as the entire bean is thrown away once the flavour is extracted. London alone produces 200,000 tonnes of coffee waste every year.

UCL architecture student Arthur Kay landed on an idea to turn these waste coffee grounds into fuel last year. “I wanted to design a coffee shop where all the coffee grounds were turned into biodiesel to provide light and heat for the shop,” he explained.

All vegetables have oil content but no technology existed for extracting the energy from coffee. Mr Kay enlisted the services of a team of bio-chemical engineers and developed a brand new technology for processing the new waste stock. “We now own that IP,” he said.

There are two kinds of biofuel on the market: first generation, which involves specially growing crops like soy and rapeseed to turn into fuel, and second generation, which uses waste, like cooking oil.

First generation fuels have been lambasted by environmentalists for using land that should be used to grow food for the world’s hungry, so second generation fuels are rising in popularity. “The diesel in your car is made up of 5pc biodiesel,” said Mr Kay. “And the EU is looking to raise the percentage of that coming from second generation sources.”

Bio-bean collects from coffee shops, roasters and instant coffee manufacturers across London and transports the waste grounds to a processing unit in Edmonton, where the material is turned into biodiesel and pellets.

Previously, these companies were paying £64 a tonne for the waste to be dumped in landfill, with transport costs taking the total per tonne to £154. Bio-Bean pays a nominal fee for the waste, as covers the cost of collection. Unsurprisingly, the growth of the business has been exponential. Still in its first year, Bio-Bean is forecast to turn over £7.5m by 2016.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has declared his support for Bio-Bean, awarding it his Low Carbon Prize this year. “This level of green innovation is brilliant to see,” he said. “We are 100pc behind Bio-Bean, which is absolutely full of beans.”

From abattoir to apple tree

Running an abattoir is a complicated business in the wake of the UK BSE epidemic. There is a mountain of regulation governing the way meat is processed, and the rules of waste disposal are so strict that most abattoirs choose to simply incinerate all leftover material rather than attempt to transport it.

Elemental Digest was founded last year to help abattoirs turn all their left over blood and bone into something useful: fertilizer. It provides an on-site hopper, which processes the waste, and is building a network of fertilizer companies that buy the finished product.

“If you walk out of an abattoir holding a brain stem from a cow, you could go to prison,” explained Joe Priday, director at Elemental Digest. “It’s really strict.

“You can no longer feed dead stock to new stock, and only some of the waste can be rendered for stock cubes and the like. The rest is just burnt, which costs the abattoirs between £70-100 per head of cattle. But a tonne of bones and blood will make two tonnes of fertiliser,” which is worth about £800 at current market rates.

The company will turn over £5m in its first year, and already has its sights set on international markets. “Here in the UK, we kill 1.5 million cattle a year,” said Mr Priday. “In Brazil, they kill 62 million. It’s a massive opportunity.”

Recycled plastic’s fantastic

Anyone who has bought a salad or pint of milk from M&S or Sainsbury’s has purchased Closed Loop Recycling (CLR) packaging. “Half our material ends up in milk bottles and back on the shelves of the British retailers,” explained co-founder Chris Dow. “The balance will go to bottles and salad trays.”

Mr Dow and Rob Pascoe set up CLR in 2008. The company reprocesses 35,000 tonnes per year of mixed plastic bottle waste which would otherwise be sent to landfill, for exported for recycling at significant extra cost.

CLR turns over £2m every month, rising to £2.5m by the middle of 2014 as a result of a deluge of new business. The opportunities are vast, said Mr Dow: “Plastic is absolutely essential to big packaging users as it is a safe and secure way to deliver food products to their consumer base.

“Britain’s recycling rate has rocketed since 2005. We expect to be processing at least 50% more material.”


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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