Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Sam Shire Saga

The Sam Shire recycling company Ltd. started operations in Lismore in a small premises at Ballyrafter on the outskirts of Lismore in January 1998 with just five employees and initially engaged in recycling wooden pallets only.

In April of 2001 Waterford County Council extended an invitation to the company to tender for the processing of dry household recyclables including cans, plastic, and cardboard. The company jumped at the opportunity, succeeded in securing the contract, and a new public and private partnership was soon in place. By issuing this contract Waterford County Council became the first Council nationwide to introduce a major recycling initiative which commenced in November 2001, and Sam Shire is the first private company to have forged such a partnership with a local authority.

The Irish examiner article on August 12, 2002 reported:
“It has worked a treat for both parties’”, says Graham Leake. “We couldn’t possibly forge a more successful and co-operative partnership and I can only see us going from strength to strength in the future’’. That’s a view shared by the Council’s director of services at its Planning and Environment Dept., Denis McCarthy. “Our link up with Sam Shire Recycling Ltd. has proven to be a huge success and we hope that it will continue for a very long time to come’’, said Mr. McCarthy. Both men are also appreciative of the level of support given to the venture by the general public. “Their supportive participation in the recycling programme has been all important’’, says Graham Leake.Part of the company’s extended business now involves the recycling of clothes and textiles, and they are also emptying bottle banks throughout the county and taking them to the Lismore plant for recycling. “There they are segregated and baled and then shipped to the UK and are sold on as far as China’’, he said.Food and drink cans are also separated in Lismore, but because there is little or no outlet for tin cans in Ireland now because of the collapsed situation at the former Irish Steel production plant they too are shipped to Britain. “Glass bottles are also processed by us and shipped to the UK to be made into sandpaper and the like’’, the Sam Shire MD said. In recent times too the company has concluded negotiations with Roadstone for a major order to put crushed glass into a Waterford County Council road construction project on a trial basis. “That is very encouraging’’, says Graham Leake, “and if it proves to be the success we believe it will be then another new and significant opportunity will have opened up for us’’.A further planned expansion starting next month will be the collection of bottles from pubs and hotels which the Sam Shire boss insists will be “another revolutionary service’’. The company is also looking to extend its service into South Tipperary."

So what went wrong?

The company closed its doors on April 2006 with a total of 4500 tons of recycling material (estimated) piled up on the the premises both inside and outside the main building.

The resulting story is well told by Christy Parker on the website from which I will quote the following:

"In 2001, Sam Shires, in conjunction with waste treatment company, HLC Henley Burrows Ltd. also of Worcester, successfully tendered for a five-year contract to handle Waterford County Council’s kerbside recyclable waste. It was the State’s first such public/private waste management contract. According to Paul Daly, former Senior Engineer at the Council’s Environment Department, Leake also received a Council loan of £25-30,000, which he repaid.
Interestingly, both companies, in conjunction with Roche Engineering Ballinasloe, failed to win a similar tender with Galway Co Council. Meanwhile, Waterford Co. Council declined to check Leake’s business cv, beyond tax clearance. Instead they “found the Henley Burrows CV impressive. We interviewed them and they were very knowledgeable,” explains Mr. Daly. It is unclear what subsequent role, if any, that company played.

Had they checked Leake’s credentials the Council might have unearthed a series of failed businesses, disgruntled creditors and various ongoing enterprises bearing similar ‘Sam Shire’ appendages with some variations on Leake’s own name.The Council also awarded Sam Shires a contract to empty and process the county’s bottle bank produce. A multi-national workforce of 28 was employed, with the waste baled primarily for sale and shipment to northern England.

Initially Waterford Co. Council paid Sam Shires a gate fee plus subsequent Repak subsidy. “That became a logistical nightmare so eventually we just increased his gate fee and retained the subsidy,” Mr. Daly elaborates. With South Tipperary literally adding weight, Leake processed 600 to 700 tons weekly, on a gate fee of approximately €100 per ton. Shipping costs to Britain were approximately €118 per container of 20 tons. He was doing well, though workers regularly complained of conditions and at least three Health and Safety inspections by Co. Council officials filed critical reports of the business.

Then, in early 2003, Leake stopped sending his segregated and baled product to Britain. Instead he availed of a London-based Trans Frontier Shipping agency called Railuk Environmental Solutions Ltd., operated by a Cameron Luck and a Mr. Paimir Rai. Railuk would buy co-mingled dry waste for shipping to India with Sam Shires further benefiting from a gate fee once it arrived. With no need for segregation, Leake could shed most of his workforce.

Amongst EU and OECD States, transported waste for recovery “within, into and out of the European Community” falls into three categories; Red -toxic/dangerous; Amber -non-hazardous co-mingled Green waste, which in turn was non-hazardous recyclable, like paper and plastic, etc. Of the three, Green waste does not require a TFS licence.

In October 2003, customs officials in Rotterdam and Antwerp intercepted over 100 containers of co-mingled waste categorised as Green and bound for India, where it would not have been accepted had it been properly listed as Amber. Nine Irish local authorities were implicated and up to 20 containers were traceable to Lismore. In December Cameron Luck sought, in vain, the intervention of the Department of Environment, claiming he could not afford the containers’ €5,000 weekly storage costs.

Under pressure from customs official through Waterford County Council, Leake eventually paid out over £50,000 storage and transportation costs before the Sam Shires containers returned to Lismore in February 2004. The ill-fated venture seriously crippled the company, given its low cash flow.

Leake was now in serious difficulty. He couldn’t get his picking line running again. He had containers of waste with nowhere to send them, while simultaneously Waterford County Council were sending him more waste, under contract. Plus, he had the bottle bank recovery and commercial waste to manage. “He finally found a German company to accept the waste but there was a kind of four-month hiatus when he couldn’t move anything and it just piled up,” recalls Mr. Daly. In 2004, the Council opened its own recycling plant in Dungarvan and did not renew the Sam Shires contract.

On June 5th 2005 Sam Shires was involuntarily struck off the register, having failed to file returns since January 2001. Nonetheless, the plant continued trading, still chipping away vainly at the waste. For awhile, it even continued honouring the bottle contract, with the County Council seemingly unaware of it’s non-legal status. That year also, the Council invoiced Sam Shires for €287,000 in respect of advanced gate fees for recycling that had not occurred, plus lost Repak subsidies.

In January 2006, the EPA surprisingly scuppered the Council’s plans for a new landfill outside Dungarvan. Consequentially the waste must eventually be transported outside the county, at enormous cost. The Council upped the invoice to €664,000, inclusive of advanced payment to remove the waste. It was a pointless demand, as the mountain of waste proved too steep to conquer. Sam Shires Services (Recycling) Limited closed its gates in April 2006.

Since then, Waterford County Council have sought redress. Last April, in Lismore District Court, they won a prosecution against Sam Shires Services (Recycling) Ltd, in Leake’s absence, under Section 55 of the Waste Management Act, for non-compliance with a notice for waste removal. Leake’s subsequent failure to honour that verdict preceded a High Court action under Section 58 of the Act."

This case was supposed to be heard on July 15, but the day before this was to take place the recycling plant went on fire. The case was postponed for one week. The company was then given a specific period to submit a plan to remove the waste and agreed to that court order. However no plan was submitted and therefore the company is in breach of a high court order.

In the mean time the waste is still there and whats more, the asbestos roofing sheets exploded during the fire and contaminated the site with asbestos. The County Council so eager to take the credit for an inovative idea in 2001, is now maintaining an "its not our problem" attitude, although has as a gesture tried to bag the asbestos pieces and demolished the building. The bags with asbestos are stored on site and will not be removed. The half burned remains of the recycling materials have been piled up in a heap and are now open to the elements. No longer packed in bundles the materials have started decomposing and is beginning to smell.

What is really making my blood boil is the attitude of the authorities. Yes it can be argued that by issuing a contract to the Sam Shire company to dispose of the recycling material, the County Council has no further responsibility (as they seem to think), however those of us who welcomed recycling and purchased the tags at € 2 - €2.50 each from the County Council feel cheated as we paid the county council for recycling the materials and not for storing it on the edge of a heritage Town. If one would calculated about 20kgs per tag, the 4500 MT of materials amount to 225,000 tags and therefore approx €500,000, surely we can expect some service for that amount of money.


  1. Yes this is a blood boiling issue, given that it is on the doorstep of a heritage town like Lismore. The attitude of the Council leaves a lot to be desired with everyone passing the buck and hiding behind the sub-judice excuse. The long-term effects of the asbestos will not be apparent for years and it could come back to haunt future generations. This is our shame and no-one seems to be listening to those who are trying to get something done about it. The costs are self-evident but as it's all been prepaid by customers the council should honour their waste management committment and dispose of the the rubbish however much it would now cost.
    Keep up the good fight!

  2. I am astounded by this, I remember the fire in Lismore but I was unaware of the history to the company. The root of the problem is Public Pricate Partnerships. I ahve always seen these as unregualtd fetherbeddin gof the private sector from the public purse. PPP's are seen as the solution but in fact they are off balance sheet and unethical off loading of public responsibility by the state. There was nothing worng with the standard way of state procurment, the prolem is with unregulated private delivery of state ervices

  3. Hi,

    I work for the Centre for enterprise at WIT. I've been involved in setting up a blog which celebrates the enterprising past of Waterford and the South East. We hope that by showing people entrepreneurs form the past more current innovators may be encouraged.