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Measured approach

Mike Boxall, Managing Director of Sitemark extolls the value of benchmarking waste management and recycling practices

Landfill in the UK is in steep structural decline, with the focus turning to alternative waste treatments and a move toward the circular economy. Responsibly managing waste is becoming more important than ever as societal consciousness turns towards the climate crisis and plastic pollution. Facilities managers are adapting to this by progressing towards a circular economy in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible and waste is minimised. This makes both environmental and economic sense as reusing waste can turn it into an asset stream. However, there are many aspects of waste management that need to change or be streamlined. Benchmarking is the tool that makes it possible for organisations to develop better practices to benefit both their economic and environmental bottom line.

Benchmarking is the practice of comparing aspects of an organisation on a like-for-like basis. This can be done between virtually any element – teams, tools, products, and processes – as long as there is a baseline from which to compare. Lessons can be learned from across the industry and even across multiple industries so long as the practice is the same. For example, processes for managing lone working contractors may be the same across cleaning, waste management, and portering.

Most organisations believe their data relating to their recycling and waste management is sufficient, or even excellent. Yet a benchmarking process typically provides up to 80 change management strategies and recommendations which will improve the recycling and waste performance across a client’s facility. This is often a result of an organisation’s low levels of efficiency relative to what is actually obtainable, and lack of engagement with the potential for a more circular economy.

Over scheduling of waste collection is a common inefficiency and addressing this is a simple means of reducing both financial cost and the environmental impact of collection vehicles. Benchmarking allows a facility to understand exactly where budgets are being spent and whether there are gaps or oversights in current processes.

The first step to benchmarking is to carry out an in-depth assessment of the current waste management and recycling provision. The review is deliberately designed to help clients understand how virtually every kilogram of material is generated, collected, moved, and removed from their facility. Not only is the composition of waste and recycling important, but the training and practices in place which dictate the outcome.

By considering every waste stream leaving the organisation, the client is placed in a position to proactively alter their practices. Waste may be reduced by altering what products are brought into the organisation to begin with, be it food packaging which is often not recyclable or excessive plastic packaging on cleaning products. Working with a supplier to make processes more sustainable can have an influence on the entire supply chain to work towards higher environmental standards. This can reduce waste and be an important aspect of the organisation’s CSR policy as a leader in sustainable practices.

Products can have value at the end of their life in the organisation too. Benchmarking identifies how waste leaving the organisation can be turned into revenue streams. Rather than simply recycling some of the most common forms of waste – cardboard, plastic wrap, aluminium, or paper – many organisations are selling them as a commodity. White paper, pallet wrap, aluminium and steel all hold significant worth that has a tendency to be undervalued by the organisations discarding them.

Once a review has been carried out, the organisation will be able to begin implementing changes in processes to reduce carbon emissions, increase recycling, and increase rebates. Sitemark clients gain an average annual saving of over 25 per cent through this implementation.

It is very easy to overestimate the power of data and its potential to affect change. Determining where an organisation has the potential to streamline will not automatically create a best in class service. Changes need to be consistently applied and upheld. There are nuanced aspects to an organisation’s daily working that can be more difficult to determine, such as the impact of culture on waste practices. For this reason, many organisations will choose to benchmark on a regular basis. This enables the independent benchmarking provider to determine whether recommendations are being properly implemented, and also to gain a better picture of the ‘soft side’ of the organisation and account for aspects such as culture.

Companies that repeat a benchmarking exercise every six to eight months will begin to understand their market position more clearly, as well as being able to make changes that have a genuine, lasting effect. Those that understand how to add value beyond price, moreover, will typically find themselves more competitive, especially when bidding for contracts that emphasise less-quantifiable factors like social value.

There is a greater appreciation than ever that for any organisation to reach its potential, it has to be looked at holistically. Each and every aspect plays a role in efficiency and functionality. No ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to improvement will work because every organisation is unique. The power of benchmarking is the process it takes of breaking down elements of processes and examining the details. In doing so, benchmarking cuts through the noise and offers clarity to the reality of day-to-day organisational practices. Creating a complete picture of the organisation and laying out the precise steps to improvement makes change an easy and logical process.

About Sarah OBeirne

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