INWED24: Biffa engineer lifts lid on fascinating world of waste management

20 Jun 2024
3 mins
To coincide with International Women in Engineering Day on June 23, Gaby Pearce spoke about her journey into waste management, which has a vital role to play in reducing emissions and tackling climate change.
Industry News

A Biffa engineer has spoken about her move from construction into the fascinating world of waste management. 

Gaby Pearce is a Project Manager in the Mechanical and Engineering department for Group Engineering. 

With more than 300 sites across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Biffa - the UK leader in sustainable waste management - provides world class engineering at all stages of the waste hierarchy, from reduction to recycling to recovery. 

And as a diverse employer with a commitment to ongoing training and support, Biffa is a fantastic career choice for engineers, from the newly qualified to those seeking a new challenge. 

To coincide with International Women in Engineering Day on June 23 – an annual event to celebrate how the work of women engineers supports lives and livelihoods and helps build towards a brighter future – Gaby spoke about her own journey into waste management, which has a vital role to play in reducing emissions and tackling climate change.
International Women in Engineering Day

Hi Gaby, what does your role involve and what projects are you working on? 

Hello! Group Engineering has two fundamental roles: proactive and reactive.  

My boss, and the other technical authorities in the department - mechanical & electrical, chemical processing, civils and maintenance - are proactive engineers. This means as well as using their specialist skills to understand the root cause of an issue, they also forecast issues and seek out potential remedies. 

I’m a reactive engineer, finding beneficial solutions and implementing them on time and on budget. I organise construction projects from design to completion at our sites across the South East of England.  

I’m currently working on food waste bays at various transfer stations across West Sussex, the simplification of the mixed pre-treatment plant at a Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant, an AI robotics project and modifications to machinery in a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in North London. 

What part does engineering play in Biffa’s journey to net zero? 

In the fight against emissions and climate change, everything we do is geared towards helping people and businesses waste less and recycle more, and to help us do that we have world class engineering at all stages of the waste management process, from advanced sorting technology at our MRFs, to state-of-the-art machinery at our plastic recycling facilities. Smaller projects also play their part. For example, the bays at our food waste facilities require a jet washer: technology has finally become advanced enough for electrical power washers to equal diesel generator power washers; therefore, we’re installing net zero jet washers without affecting efficiency. 

What qualifications do you have for the role?  

Although I have a BA Hons, NVQs, NEBOSH, and various other qualifications, it is my previous years of experience as a project manager elsewhere that qualifies me for the role. 

What were you doing before, and what was your pathway into Biffa? 

I was a project manager in the construction industry. I moved from construction because I had been freelance for about 20 years and, as the recession began to bite, the industry started combining the role of project manager and site manager – these are very different roles and not only did I think it was wrong to combine them but, as a single mum, I could not commit to being on site for 12 hours every day.  

So, I looked around to see what else was on offer. Biffa was one of three different opportunities I progressed with. As I learned more about the waste industry from the interviews, I found it more fascinating – I had no idea so much was involved in waste management! 

Was waste ever an industry you thought you’d have a career in? 

No, not at all, I had very little knowledge of the waste industry. I started out ‘on the tools’ as a plumber renovating high-end residential, private schools and boutique hotels in London. I worked my way up to being a project manager, although nothing to do with waste management facilities. 

What appealed to you about it? 

I love a new challenge and felt there was potential to make a difference. Biffa also offered the opportunity to increase my skills and knowledge base. 

What is a typical day for you at Biffa? What’s the bit you most enjoy? 

I don’t really have a typical day, every day is different, which is great.  I work flexi-hours to fit in with the school run, but a typical week would be to spend two to three days on site to learn about a particular design proposal, take measurements, or oversee works, and then one to two days in the office.  I’m also able to catch up on work at home once the kids are in bed. 

What has surprised you most about the role, and the waste industry in general? 

I love how many different elements there are to waste management, particularly the different waste streams and the different facilities involved at each stage of the process. I have been most pleasantly surprised by the vast knowledge, skills and talent within Biffa. I very much like meeting new people, learning about their specialist skillset and putting their specialist knowledge to good use within a project. 

Can you tell us a bit more about the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), and how it has helped you? 

Biffa has a corporate partnership with WES, a group of engineers, the majority of whom are female, who have amazing stories to tell. They are vastly experienced women of all ages, who have all been a minority in their field. WES holds events, awards and conferences, which give an opportunity to hear about their inspiring stories. I find spending time and networking at events empowering and helps me to focus on being the best I can be. 

Do you benefit from any in-house training and support too? 

To support their general professional development, Biffa encourages all engineers to become members of their chosen Institution, from technician level through to chartered, and will pay for a professional membership subscription. I’m also always looking for the next training course to better my knowledge of plant, processes or people management. Biffa’s Know How platform is excellent for developing or prompting knowledge.  

What other engineering roles are available at Biffa? Do they need different qualifications to the ones you have? 

There are lots of engineering roles of all different disciplines across Biffa, including apprentices. My background is in mechanical, electrical and construction and my specialist skill is managing a project from concept to completion. Each site has its own team of engineers - mechanical, electrical, controls, facilities - and each Biffa division has its own major projects department.  

Would you encourage other engineers, whether newly qualified or looking for a new challenge, to consider a career in the waste industry? 

Yes of course! The waste industry has a lot to offer. You can be involved in making a difference to how people think about waste, and the big part that plays in reducing emissions and tackling climate change. 

What’s the pay and conditions like? 

The pay compares well to the construction industry, and the working conditions are better than most building sites I have worked on, as there are permanent offices and toilets. Biffa also has a great range of family-friendly policies. 

What are your short, medium and long-term goals? 

Short term goals are always about getting the current projects progressed and developed to a high standard, also strengthening working relationships and supporting my department in its goals.

Medium term goals are about increasing my knowledge, developing skills, striving to achieve and increasing the performance output of my department. My long-term goals are possibly about progressing to the next level of management, being more of an asset to the wider business, but mainly just keep enjoying what I do!