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Towards a zero waste future

Many facilities managers are struggling to meet increasingly stringent commercial and industrial recycling rates. We asked a panel of waste management specialists how FMs can achieve compliance and improve efficiencies

There has been a growing drive in recent years for organisations to reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill. In 2018, the government published its Resources and Waste Strategy for England (see References, note 1). This builds on its 25 Year Environment Plan, setting out a policy framework which looks to ensure resources are used more efficiently, and waste minimised and deployed as a valuable source of raw materials(2). Much of the strategy focuses on the top end of the waste hierarchy – waste prevention and reuse(3).

FMJ and Grundon Waste Management have run a joint survey on waste management practices among FMs for the last three years. One of the key findings is that the greatest barrier to improving waste and recycling performance is the lack of awareness of stakeholders.

Says Scott Williams, Head of Contract Management at Grundon Waste Management: “Time and again we hear that the inability to engage staff with the need to recycle, combined with physical restrictions such as lack of space for extra bins and so on, are the biggest barriers to increasing segregation of waste. This was backed up by our 2020 FM survey results showing 38.35 per cent and 24.27 per cent respectively(4) – and it is the third time in a row that staff engagement has topped the list of challenges.”

Allied to this, adds Edward Griggs, Head of Waste Supply and Subcontractors for phs Group, is people’s frequent failure to manage the segregation of waste and ensure that streams such as food and paper avoid contamination, especially if they come from a mixed-waste environment – whether a canteen, workplace or public bin. He says: “To recycle effectively, you need to create quality waste streams and eliminate contamination – and much of the onus to do this is on the end user.”

Says Michael Taylor, MD of Mitie Waste: “The biggest challenge for many of our customers is managing waste segregation, rather than a specific material. While many companies used to have different bins for different materials, this has changed over time with many companies now having one ‘catch all’ recycling bin which is segregated later. People don’t always follow the system properly, and this has created a big challenge for waste companies. For example, when people throw away recyclable plastic contaminated with food, the entire bin is contaminated.”

Says Scott Williams: “We understand that for FMs, sometimes employee engagement can seem like yet another job to do on a never-ending list, and we’ve also been told there’s a degree of uncertainty among employees about what happens to the items that are sent for recycling. This more than anything shows why it is so important to share positive facts and figures to help inspire greater engagement.”

According to Jayne Kennedy, National Marketing and Social Value Manager for B&M Waste Services, increasing engagement and education doesn’t just apply to employees, but also visitors, cleaning teams, external contractors and clients. “Businesses should produce waste needs signage which is universally recognised and breaks through language barriers – clear concise messaging about what can and cannot be recycled and, most importantly,
a commitment to removing or reducing waste overall.”

Interestingly, a recent YouGov survey found a huge disparity between habits at home, in the office and when out and about(5). In fact, the public are nearly 50 per cent more likely to always recycle at home compared to when out, and almost twice as likely to always recycle at home than at work. This leaves a huge amount of materials going to waste.

Explains Edward Eagle, National Development Manager, Veolia UK and Ireland: “Education and outreach is imperative in our waste mission. Aside from operations, sustaining business continuity and stakeholder engagement are crucial to successful waste management, and in many organisations this often involves multiple stakeholders. Facilities managers must receive the correct support and information to regulate sites and align all employees to act sustainably, regardless of whether they are in the front office, back office or are on the ground.

“Our research has also found that the most common place for people to look to for recycling information is on the bins themselves. Veolia is encouraging the pairing of clearer signage across locations with consistent labelling to ensure a reduction in the imbalance of recycling in the workplace.”

An increasing preoccupation is reducing the use of single-use plastic. Legislation is being introduced to ban the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds(6), while the budget included a plastic packaging tax to come into force from April 2022(7).

Michael Taylor of Mitie believes there are many companies who wrongly think that just sending single-use plastics for recycling is the answer. “The real solution is to drastically reduce the amount of single-use plastic used in the first place, rather than simply increase recycling rates.

“We recently teamed up with Bidfood to organise a series of interactive awareness sessions for over 1,000 school pupils. They spent time learning about the impact of single-use plastic and created sculptures of sea creatures out of plastic waste donated from nine Bidfood depots. There’s nothing like the irony of an octopus made out of plastic bottles to hammer home the importance of reducing single-use plastic waste.”

Because there is also a lot of confusion among organisations on what they should use as an alternative to single-use plastic bottles and plastic-coated cups, B&M Waste run bimonthly waste training workshops named ‘The War on Plastic’.

Says Williams: “One of the biggest questions we are asked is should we swap from plastic cups to a bioplastic made from cornstarch? There is a lot of information online and much of it conflicting in advice. To answer this, consider where the waste is going once the cup is discarded. For example, can the packaging go into recycling bins once discarded or does it go into food waste? Can your waste provider provide evidence that the bioplastic is suitable for the method of collection and the end destination?

“At the end of the day, it is still single use, and this is to be avoided as you will still end up paying for its disposal. The only way to reduce all single-use waste is to provide containers that are reusable, enforce fees for single-use products and build into your business a culture where reuse is rewarded and recognised.”

Edward Eagle of Veolia says that the UK currently fails to recycle 40 per cent of plastic bottles because they aren’t placed in the right bins – meaning over 240,000 tonnes of bottles are not being recycled every year. “Reverse vending, a solution aimed to tackle the plastic waste problem by providing an additional incentive to recycle, is backed by research which shows 81 per cent of people would go out of their way to deposit a bottle or can this way.”

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