However, it can be said with certainty that pandemic or not human beings will inevitably produce waste. That’s why it was imperative early in 2020 when New South Wales and other eastern states were still battling bushfires and governments across Australia were just beginning to set up lockdown plans that Cleanaway, the largest waste management company in the continent, have a strong plan in place for working through the situation.
Thankfully Vik Bansal, Cleanaway’s CEO and Managing Director, quickly laid out three top priorities for the company. Number one and top priority was the protection and safety of Cleanaway’s 6,000 plus employees, many of whom would remain on the front line as essential workers. Secondly, although seldom talked about, waste management remains a vital aspect of modern society, and Bansal placed a high level of importance on maintaining collection services and processing operations throughout the pandemic. Finally, he signified the importance of the business itself, operating in light of the new developments with long-term success still at the forefront, maintaining job security for the thousands who rely on it.
Just as nobody could have predicted the pandemic itself, Covid-19 has continually thrown curveball after curveball, but thanks to Bansal’s strong management Cleanaway begins the new year poised to recover from any adversity placed in its path, whether that be providing for customers and communities, continuing to expand its resource recovery capabilities, or strongly emphasizing the importance of a circular economy. However, even just five short years ago that may not have been the case.
Bansal became CEO of Cleanaway in July of 2015, after a successful stint in the United States as president and chief commercial officer of the manufacturing company Valmont Industries. Desiring to move back to his home country, he seriously vetted three career opportunities and although Cleanaway (then known as Transpacific) posed significant challenges, he was struck by the fact that although the company was underperforming heavily for investors and management turnover was high, it had remained resilient, telling him that the people and the core of the company was good. Against the advice of some of his most trusted friends, he took the job at Cleanaway, and immediately set to work.
One of Bansal’s first steps in taking the business “from good to great” was giving the entire brand a refresh, meaning a new name, stronger and more consistent operational guidelines, and improved capital discipline. Just six short months after his arrival on the scene Transpacific had become Cleanaway Waste Management, clearly identifying the company’s core strength, and along with the name change came a new mission statement: making a sustainable future possible. Thanks to Bansal’s clearly defined medium and long-term strategies along with an achievable action plan, by the end of 2016 revenue and earnings were showing growth for the first time in three years. His strategies around accelerating and refocusing growth initiatives, customer service, and ensuring clear accountabilities for senior leadership peaked the interest of both the industry at large and the markets, and that year Cleanaway was awarded the Turnaround Management Association’s (TMA) “Turnaround of the Year Award” in the large company category.
Internally, the company also made great strides in clarity. With the introduction of “Our Cleanaway Way,” those within the company had an one-page strategy that clearly defined the company’s values to be used as a guide for prioritization and decision-making while also outlining what can be expected of each other. Through the launching of Our Cleanaway Way, employees and management alike were for the first time aligned towards a single mission.
Thanks to these initiatives, 2017 saw Cleanaway with investor relations on the up-and-up and thriving company culture, making them well poised for the industry disruptions such as China’s National Sword policy and growing populations that would bring waste management to the forefront of many conversations. Thankfully, Bansal was already planning on how to drive Australia’s circular economy, and launched Footprint 2025, a roadmap to ensure the country would have the proper infrastructure to meet the growing needs communities would have in managing their waste while also continuing to improve resource recovery. The roadmap looks to long-term and sustainable solutions that can allow for the recovery of more from waste, as well as processing more recyclables to ensure that the least amount of residual waste is left to be disposed of.
Taking the roadmap into action, Cleanaway began ramping up its capabilities through greenfield investments and strategic acquisitions such as Toxfree and Daniels Health. By successfully integrating these companies into the Cleanaway team, Bansal expanded the company’s resource recovery footprint, solidifying their path to becoming a total waste services provider. Another such beneficial strategic acquisition was in 2019 when the company acquired the assets of SKM Recycling, including material recovery facilities, a plastic recovery facility, as well as transfer stations. The company had gone into administration, and as a result the entire state of Victoria had lost half of its recycling capacity. Thanks to the work of Bansal and the leadership team at Cleanaway, they were able to restore recycling to Victorian councils. Through these acquisitions, Cleanaway has been able to quickly gain infrastructure that would have otherwise taken years to build, better supporting Australia’s transition toward a circular economy.
Even within the decade, the public opinion on sustainability and a circular economy has grown significantly more supportive. Consumers are increasingly looking to businesses for accountability when it comes to environmental and sustainability issues, a fact which was not lost on Bansal. In 2020, Cleanaway published its first comprehensive sustainability report in which it lay out a set of material topics and nine of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a process it will continue to go through and update each year moving forward. Additionally, with a level of foresight into the future of sustainability they have begun to work on extending their capabilities further up the waste value chain, partnering with Pact Group and Asahi to build a plastic pelletizing facility that will recycle the equivalent of one billion plastic bottles each year into new food and beverage packaging.
Although there are still many additional steps to be taken, grants provided by the state and federal governments will allow Cleanaway to continue investing in closed loop solutions such as glass beneficiation and plastic pelletising. Thanks to Vik Bansal’s clear and steady leadership, Cleanaway has been able to get out in front of the growing demand for waste resource recovery. In five short years, Bansal has taken Cleanaway from a stumbling directionless company to a leader within its industry, and brought Australia that much closer to a sustainable, circular economy.