Business Heroes - Green King: Closed Loop Recycling (winner)

Our Green Kings came to the UK to use their recycling expertise for the Commonwealth Games - but ended up helping to transform the UK's recycling habits instead.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

When chief executive Chris Dow and his business partner Rob Pascoe arrived in the UK from Australia in 2002, they hoped they could use the experiences Pascoe had gained championing green at the Sydney Olympics and apply it to the Commonwealth Games. Right on.

The problem was, when they got here, they realised the UK's recycling infrastructure was way behind Australia's. Critics doubted that they could process their goal of 35,000 bottles a day. 'At that time the UK was only collecting 50,000 bottles in total. Now it's collecting 260,000 per day,' Dow recalls. 'Our view was build it and they will come. Luckily it worked.'

It certainly has. Closed Loop, which processes clear and light blue PET drinks bottles and cloudy HDPE milk bottles, has smashed its initial target and is already on the way to its next goal: processing 65,000 bottles a day. But it has been a long, hard slog for Australian Dow, who relocated his family to the UK in 2007. The biggest challenge, he says, was getting the cash to build the factory - a whopping £17.5m.

In the end, they secured finance from the Allied Irish Bank and specialist sustainable investment firm Foresight Group. And that wasn't the end of their travails - they had to ensure they could get enough bottles delivered to the plant every day to make the project feasible. Many negotiations came to nothing, and Dow was about to pack up and head back across the Pacific, before striking a last-minute deal with waste management giant Veolia. 'A few days earlier, I thought I was going to be going home with nothing,' he says.

Instead, Dow and his 100-strong team have built an industry-leading factory in Dagenham, and an equally impressive client list which includes Coca-Cola, Britvic and Nampak. We can expect to see more from Closed Loop too - it is poised for expansion, both at the existing plant and elsewhere in the UK. They hope it won't be so much of a struggle to find the cash next time. With thrifty recycling such a hot topic in the UK, Dow expects investors will be as keen as mustard. 'It's different this time, because it's actually here. They can touch and feel it,' he says. 'I rarely have people leave without a little twinkle in their eye.'

Global Action Plan

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Want to encourage more female leaders? Openly highlight their achievements

A study shows that publicly praising women not only increases their willingness to lead, their...

Message to Davos: Don't blame lack of trust on 'society'

The reason people don't trust you is probably much closer to home, says public relations...

Dame Cilla Snowball: Life after being CEO

One year on from stepping back as boss of Britain's largest advertising agency, Dame Cilla...

How to change people's minds when they refuse to listen

Research into climate change deniers shows how behavioural science can break down intransigence.

"Paying women equally would cripple our economy"

The brutal fact: underpaid women sustain British business, says HR chief Helen Jamieson.

Why you're terrible at recruitment (and can AI help?)

The short version is you're full of biases and your hiring processes are badly designed....