Waste sector cleans up at Queen’s Awards

Technology company Bühler UK Ltd and litter collection tool company The Helping Hand Company have been awarded Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the fields of Innovation and International Trade.

Bühler UK Ltd took home its award for its research into the use of camera technology in sorting machines, while The Helping Hand Company was rewards for growing its export business by 750 per cent in just six years.

The Queen’s Award for Enterprise is awarded to British businesses that have excelled in the fields of international trade, innovation or sustainable development.

Innovative camera technology

Bühler’s award recognises the application of the company’s innovative camera technology in the nut and frozen vegetable sectors to increase food safety controls, as well as in the plastics recycling sector to increase plastic recycling rates.

Bühler's PolyVision technology in use at STF Recycling's recycling plant.
Bühler's PolyVision technology in use at STF Recycling's recycling plant.
Matthew Kelly, Managing Director of Digital Technologies within the Bühler Group, expressed satisfaction at receiving the award, the seventh such award won by Bühler since 1968, stating: “We are absolutely delighted to be receiving this ‘seventh’ Queen’s Award. Innovation is at the heart of our business and it’s wonderful to see another cutting edge product making a big impact in the market; on food safety, food quality and of course generating commercial success for our customers.”

Bühler’s technology, developed in the UK, uses hyperspectral imaging to record vast amounts of wavelength data to generate highly accurate colour and shading contrasts for specific products. This data is then statistically analyzed to create algorithms that inform the sorting camera exactly what colour and shading contrasts to look for when detecting contamination or a foreign object in a production process.

Benedict Deefholts, Senior Research Engineer at Bühler UK, said: “The innovation here is our ability to gather such large amounts of data and then use that data to optimize a conventional narrow band digital camera so that it is capable of quickly and efficiently detecting very specific things, whether it is shells in nuts, foreign materials in a vegetable production line or even different grades of polymers in a recycling plant.”

Bühler has applied its technology to a range of specialist cameras for different markets over the past four years: its BioVision™ camera is targeted at the nut industry, PolarVision™ aimed at producers of frozen vegetable and PolyVision™ designed to improve plastic recycling rates.

With notable inroads being made into the frozen vegetable and nut markets to detect contaminants and blemished produce, the Bühler camera technology is also being used to detect foreign material and lower grade or discolored polymers to ensure the highest grade recyclate can be achieved by plastic recyclers – European plastic recyclers STF Recycling employ Bühler’s technology – allowing a greater uptake of recycled material.

Exponential export growth

The Helping Hand Company’s award for international trade comes after the company grew its export business by 750 per cent in six years.

The manufacturer of litter clearance tools, which supplies more than 90 per cent of local authorities and waste contractors in the UK through its HH Environmental division, now exports its tools and environmental educational support services to over 20 countries around the world.

The business, based in Herefordshire, has more than doubled its overseas sales from £450,000 to £986,000 between 2016 and 2017 and has built large customer bases in France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Ireland and is developing distribution channels in Australia, Germany and Spain.

One of The Helping Hand Company's litter-picking tools.
One of The Helping Hand Company's litter-picking tools.
Working with local authorities, community groups, charities and commercial partners keen to tackle the litter crisis, HH Environmental provides tools and promotional materials needed for organisations to launch their own litter picks and anti-litter campaigns.

It works with dozens of campaigning bodies in the UK including Keep Britain Tidy, Keep Scotland Beautiful and Keep Wales Tidy, and has taken a similar approach in Europe in the last five years, developing partnerships with clean-up action organisations such as Nederland Schoon in Holland, and in Belgium.

Commenting on the company’s success, Lara Bryant, Vice President of sales and marketing at The Helping Hand Company, said: “Our mission is to get rid of all the world’s litter – which would mean we’d have no business, but it’s what we want. We support organisations and individuals in tackling litter scattered on pavements, carparks, greenspaces, beaches, rivers and motorways – we need to turn the tide.

“By recycling just 50 per cent of all litter thrown on our streets today, we could save £14.8million pounds every year or £40,547 a day. We have seen a big increase in people getting actively involved in clean-ups and much greater awareness since that amazing Blue Planet series just over a year ago. It has had an astonishing impact.”

HH Environmental’s recent expansion has been supported by the recruitment of an environmental export sales manager and administrator in February 2014, who together have driven the rapid growth of sales across the EU and beyond.

In order to keep its environmental impact to a minimum, the company’s products are all manufactured at its base in Ledbury, Herefordshire, using sustainable materials and packaging that can be recycled wherever possible, with 97 per cent of all its production waste being recycled.

You can find out more about Bühler UK Ltd and The Helping Hand Company on the respective companies’ websites.

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