Speaking to Anton Herwers; since 1998 responsible for, among other things, notifications within N+P Group.
Anton Herwers (83) has been with N+P Group for 25 years this month (April, 2023). A huge milestone. Naturally, we cannot let this pass unnoticed. Because Anton has meant a lot to N+P Group.
How it all started
"It may surprise you but since 1960 I have consistently archived my annual diaries; packed with appointments as well as notes! Sometimes I still flip through them, just to look back. When the diary from 1991 suddenly took me back to the first meeting between Karel and me," Anton says busily flicking through his diary pages. "Karel was a purchaser at a limestone factory and I was responsible for processing paper sludge at a paper mill. Our paths crossed because of a subsidised project by the Dutch government to find a solution for the incineration of paper sludge", something Karel and I were both fascinated by and saw the potential of. So it came as a big surprise when the company Karel worked for was sold and the new owner was no longer interested in the project. You can probably guess; the project stopped immediately! And with it, so did the contact between Anton and Karel.
This can’t be a coincidence!
But Karel could not let go of his 'waste processing fascination' and enriched an existing (unworkable) idea into a brilliant and sustainable concept. After hard work and a few detours, his own company was born: N+P Group. And it cannot be a coincidence that he found himself on Anton's doorstep in 1993: "Karel could use our paper sludge for processing and came up with a good proposal. After we set up the permits together to conquer abroad, we had to wait quite a while for approval. But this was worth it, because the rest is history. Within one month, we converted the entire logistics of 70,000 tonnes of paper sludge from the Dutch landfill to the German brickworks," the sparkle in Anton's eyes says it all; a partnership for life was born. Not surprisingly, within considerable time Anton knocked on his door to ask if he could join N+P Group.
Until this day
"Before I joined Karel, paper recycling was my 'thing'. And in my peak years, the world knew me as 'the man of paper recycling'. A busy period during which I flew around the world: from Bangkok to the United States," Anton says. During this time, he was also a member of various committees from the Dutch Association of Paper Manufacturers. He regularly visited these paper mills (as many as 36!). When Anton first set foot within N+P Group, his process knowledge and experience merged into one function. "What my job involved at the time? All sorts of things! From permits to logistics and quality. Karel looked after purchasing and Karin wrote the accounts. The three of us literally operated from a small place in the Netherlands!". Anton has therefore seen N+P Group grow into the big international player it is today; from the first notification to the nearly 3,000 today.
83 years of life on the counter
Anton and Karel are perfectly matched. "Within no time, Karel knew how to get us to the table with potential clients”. Once at the table, Anton convinced them using hard figures and facts. The sustainable and creditable solution for paper sludge and rejects: we had it in our hands! "More and more companies knew how to find their way to us, simply because with our concept we could halve the cost of paper sludge disposal for them. This is how we grew very quickly in the beginning," Anton says.
We are now almost 25 years on and Anton is slowly handing over the baton. This is not entirely out of the blue, because with a whopping 83 years of life on the clock, Anton is not only the longest-serving employee within N+P Group, but also the oldest. "I absorb information like a sponge. And it is precisely this sponge that I have been wringing out for some time now; in other words, I am transferring my knowledge to my colleagues at the notifications department."
Give notice to the notifications department
Notifications department; a department with great responsibility, as N+P Group acts as notifier for cross-border waste transports. From arranging approvals with authorities in the country of dispatch, the country of receipt and any transit countries to defining transport routes, registering carriers and routes and much more. In short, processes involving a lot of knowledge and experience because of the complex interpretation of regulations per country and where the timing always has to be on point. Knowledge and experience which our sympathetic Anton lovingly shares with his colleagues.
The notification bible of Anton
That Anton is hugely administratively minded is obvious. For instance, he coordinates the paper sludge analyses. This means he makes sure that the analysis results are passed on to the sludge-processing brickworks and power plants on time and in the right format. Quite an accounting job! Not to mention Anton's 'notification bible'. Anton put his first hand on this Excel file in 1998 when the first notification was a fact. And now? Now we are over 2,866 notifications on. "The first notification was about the processing of 10,000 tonnes of paper sludge that we transported from the paper mill in Gennep (NL) to a brickworks in Wefensleben (DE)".
Anton's bible has two parts; a checklist - where all requests are listed in time order - and the real notification bible with all the notifications we have requested so far. "This list goes back to 1998. And there is a hard core, because customers from then still keep coming back to this day!", Anton says proudly. Nevertheless, the end of times for the "traditional notification bible" has come, as technology has now taken over and made way for our CRM system in which we handle all administrative processes. And this is exactly why, in our opinion, Anton deserves the title: forerunner on big-data.
"I am very numerically minded and that is exactly what drives me. Keeping track of everything, that's my thing! Outside work, I keep a record of how many kilometres I have run, but also of how many millimetres of rain fall each day". Seasoned as Anton is, he has been getting up every morning effortlessly to come to the N+P office for years. Even after he has long since passed retirement age. But what has struck Anton most over the years? "The technical developments like computers and smartphones. I have witnessed the integration of computers with my own eyes. This has always fascinated me. Digitisation has also helped me archive documents more efficiently. Something that makes my beta personality very happy!", says Anton who continues to be amazed by today's technologies. He closely follows all developments of new tools and gadgets.
Anton finds it important to stay physically fit. For instance, he still walked the Nijmegen 4Days Marches until the age of 83. But unfortunately, like 'his bible', this tradition also comes to an end. Last year, Anton participated in this event for the last time. Physically, but certainly also mentally, Anton keeps moving. For instance, he joined a study circle almost four years ago. This keeps him very busy besides his work. In this study circle, members give weekly presentations on a variety of topics. And a fun fact: Anton is no stranger to being in front of groups. Because he has measured his own blood pressure daily (for 45 years) and has consistently kept track of it, he has twice been allowed to present his findings in the form of a guest lecture for 10 to 12 internists. And this is not all, as Anton has also given an annual guest lecture on this subject to students at Radboud UMC for over 10 years. Proof that Anton's data drive is not only effective for the recycling industry, but he can also help a whole other industry with this.
So our Anton is always busy! You won't find him much on the couch. Even when he has said goodbye to his full time working life; he certainly has no intention of sitting still. This is therefore typical of one of his mottos: 'keep doing everything you can still do'. And perhaps that is his secret!
Proud of N+P
"I always speak highly of N+P wherever I go. I can talk endlessly about what we do! And what we have achieved in recent years. For example, I have given a number of presentations about N+P and the recycling industry in the study circle," Anton says. And during his years in the industry, a lot has changed. For example, governments used to see waste as 'just' waste, but nowadays they increasingly see waste as a potential raw material/source. Now we still have the Dutch government to convince...
Anton has seen N+P Group's activities shift over the years "Whereas in the very beginning we were only engaged in trading paper sludge, later on rejects were added and quite some time later we became experts in producing alternative fuels and from 2022 we have our own sorting facilities for the processing and sorting of non-recyclable waste fractions. My original speciality; paper sludge, is now only a very small part of all the activities taking place within N+P," Anton concludes.