However, tighter regulations and a growing environmental awareness have changed that. At the same time, consolidation and the arrival of overseas players with the budgets to fund aggressive acquisitions have made the market tough.
Shanks & McEwan, a British company with century-old roots in construction and quarrying, has so far held its own. Partly through hitting the acquisition trail itself, it has doubled in size in recent years with turnover last year of pounds 177m and pre-tax profit of pounds 25m. However, chief executive Michael Averill and his colleagues felt that continuing success depended on a better focus. The outward results of their initiative will be apparent from tomorrow when the company unveils a new name, plain "Shanks", and a complete corporate identity to go with it.
Both the company and Bamber Forsyth, the consultancy behind the identity, stress that the project was about much more than coming up with a new letterhead and a fresh livery for the company's fleet of vehicles and rubbish skips.
Some of the consultants' comments are faintly risible - like the need to get away from an overly masculine image and introduce more warmth, as well as the notion that the blue in the logo is meant to stand for "practical" while the lime green is more "uplifting". They will no doubt raise a smile among employees at the company's landfill sites and elsewhere.
Clare Fuller, principal with Bamber Forsyth, anticipates the reaction when she says that the importance of branding in the waste industry may come as a surprise to many people. "But this business, like so many others, is about building strong relationships, and branding has a key role to play," she says.
It is a point taken up by James Weekley, the company's communications and brand manager. He says he expects the identity to attract attention at the industry's trade show on the South Coast next month.
Mr Weekley, a mining engineer who came to his job after several years with Shanks & McEwan in operating roles, sees the identity - which has the strapline "waste solutions" - as supporting the company's development into a provider of answers to customers. "It makes a bold statement about what we want to be, and expresses the positive, plain-speaking nature of our approach," he says. "I believe it will also create a strong platform for even more growth in the future."
As part of the process, a consultation exercise involving many of the 1,600-plus workers in Britain and Belgium was used to set goals for the future. This, in turn, is seen as an aid in improving areas such as teamwork and communication.
Externally, meanwhile, a fundamental part of the rebadging is the inclusion of a freephone telephone number that acts as a single point of contact for all the services provided by the company. And on a wider scale, the new identity is designed to raise awareness of waste-management issues in the community through partnerships and initiatives aimed at groups as varied as school children and politicians.
"When you're dealing with environmental issues and communities, you have to be open," says Mr Weekley.Reuse content