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Obituary: Colin Drinkwater

By 27/05/2020News

A founding member of the waste sector’s trade association, Colin Drinkwater died on 19 May 2020 at the age of 88. Tributes have been paid across the industry including (below) from Richard Biffa and Barry Dennis.

Colin Drinkwater – a personal tribute from Richard Biffa

Colin was a prime mover in the waste industry in its infancy in the 1960s. His family company WW Drinkwater Ltd, Willesden, were early operators in waste and in the forefront of developments.

Operators at the time in West London were: WW Drinkwater Ltd, Willesden; George Cross Ltd, Southall; Robert Deards Ltd, Finchley; A Pannell Ltd, Golders Green; S Grundon Ltd, Hayes; and Richard Biffa Ltd, Wembley. To put things into context Drinkwater’s early tipper trucks were steam- powered, ours and most others were mere petrol!

Colin Drinkwater

That of course was after horses and carts. Diesel engines didn’t come in until the late 1920s. My grandfather started the original business in Wembley Hill Road before the first stadium was built and Wembley was green fields! Drinkwaters were a huge company in the 50’s and 60’s up in Dudden Hill with a fleet about 80 tipper trucks. Our fleet was just 23.


Drinkwater’s were the first in our industry to have a computer. This was an IBM and filled a very large data processing room.

Colin approached me in the mid 60’s and suggested forming a Waste Industry Association for West London to improve standards of operation in an industry which at the time was entirely unregulated.

This association was formed under the auspices of SABAHTA (Sand & Ballast Hauliers & Allied Trades Alliance). Meetings were held initially in Colin’s office in Willesden. This was the forerunner of what became later NAWDC, now ESA.

Later in the 60’s we were all approached by Tony Morgan of Purle Bros Ltd, Rayleigh, Essex. Purle were growing rapidly and had become caught up in a toxic waste dumping scandal, entirely unfounded, it must be said.

This later led to the introduction of The Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act 1972, which was the first environmental legislation of its kind in the UK and the forerunner of The Control of Pollution Act 1974 and later The Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The Industry was consulted and involved in the drafting of all of these important early Environmental protection legislative powers. This consultation by the government with the industry was entirely due to the influence brought about by NAWDC, see below.

National Association

Tony Morgan promoted the idea of a National Association which was founded in 1968 as NAWDC (National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors), now renamed more appropriately ESA (Environmental Services Association).

Colin was active in the Industry throughout all these early years and very influential.

Richard Biffa

Colin was active in the Industry throughout all these early years and very influential. He later became Chairman of NAWDC. He had a legendary sense of humour which I witnessed on countless occasions and which remained with him to his very last days.

Throughout the time I have known Colin he was accompanied by his lovely wife Sandra. There are three children, two boys and a girl, Christopher, Matthew and Michelle and five grandchildren Emma, Grace, Poppy, Ellie and Ben. He was rightly very proud of his family.

Colin had a passion for good food, particularly sea food. A lobster was never safe near Colin! If you named any town in the UK, he would tell which restaurant to dine at! Many of us eat to live, Colin lived to eat!

It is testament to Colin and others in the industry at the time that many of us became close personal friends and remain so to this very day. To name one, I would have to name a 100! Personally, I will miss Colin hugely.

– Richard Biffa, May 2020

Colin Drinkwater – a personal tribute from Barry Dennis

I first met Colin in the 1960s. It would have been when I left school and my father took me down to meet Colin and his father Snowie, as he was known.

Through my work at the family company Deards and later the SABHATA association Colin’s support for the industry was clear. A good example was a battle over skip permits and what were unfair practices by local authorities.

Colin helped in the fight against the local authorities who were charging illegally for skip permits. It was fine getting a permit to put a skip in the road and being charged £1, but suddenly they started charging £5-10 which was nearly as much as a skip. Wandsworth, for example, had their own skip fleet, would take a week at least to issue a permit and would prefer their own to be used which we saw as unfair competition. Thanks in part to Colin’s support, we won thousands of pounds back for the industry in compensation.


Colin’s contribution to the waste and recycling sector, over six decades, was huge. He was one of the founding members of NAWDC (National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors) in 1968 and was its Chairman from 1980 to 1982. NAWDC changed its name to the Environmental Services Association (ESA) in 1996. He was elected a Life Member of ESA in 1996 in recognition of his services to the Association.

Colin’s family business WW Drinkwater Ltd was a pioneer

Barry Dennis

Colin was a key player along with Keith Bury and Roger Hewitt in founding FEAD, the European Waste Association in 1981 in partnership with the German trade association BDE.

Colin’s family business WW Drinkwater Ltd was a pioneer bringing new ideas and equipment to the notice of the sector during the 50s and 60s. His company bought Sabey Waste Management Ltd and was a major player trading as Drinkwater Sabey Ltd until it was sold to Attwoods which in turn was bought by SUEZ UK. In the last years of his career he worked for Shanks plc (now Renewi).

Colin will be missed by those who knew him and his memory will live in their minds forever. He was a great character, a great personality with a great sense of humour which he kept till the end. I will miss him greatly. He was a very good friend.

– Barry Dennis, May 2020

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Source: Waste Managment