There is no doubt Australia has a waste problem. In 2016-17 Australia generated an estimated 67 million tonnes of waste. Less than half of this (approximately 37 per cent) was recycled. But while our waste crisis remains a hot topic, many individuals, organisations and businesses are taking action.
This in part has been thanks to television shows such as ABC’s War on Waste, social media challenges like #trashtag – where users post before and after photos of areas where they’ve filled up bags of rubbish – and a growing number of collaborations between service providers and facilities conscious of their environmental footprint.
The cleaning industry is not immune to this crisis and has the potential to play an influential role in encouraging effective waste management in built environments.
This is evident by the growing number of cleaning contractors introducing waste initiatives, which are proving beneficial to not only the client, but cleaners too.
National cleaning services provider Quayclean, which is set to release its own white paper on waste later this year, works with clients to develop site specific recycling and waste programs.
“Sustainable thinking is now a way of living and our future generations depend on us building these foundations today,” explains Quayclean CEO Mark Piwkowski, who is calling on all stakeholders to take responsibility for their waste.
“You can’t rely on the waste companies alone. In most cases the waste onsite is heavily contaminated with organics or heavily mixed with building waste, plastics, paper and cardboard which most waste companies cannot separate and therefore it ends in landfill.
“Rather than relying solely on waste collectors – who do have an important part to play – we advocate for customers to take responsibility for their waste streams in the site providing bins for separation at source.”
The Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust generates approximately 1000 to 1200 tonnes of waste onsite. Quayclean has worked closely with the team at the Trust to implement a recycling and waste management solution, that it says has led to annual savings of more than $150,000, and an increase in recycling to consistently greater than 70 per cent.
Further changes and internal stakeholder education has seen recycling in the last two months alone increase to above 80 per cent.
Piwkowski says community, business and government authorities need to take ownership of their waste streams whilst working with all staff and suppliers to reduce the waste generated on site.
He suggests a simple starting point for facilities is to tip a days’ worth of waste on the ground (or a portion of waste) and have the team separate all the various waste streams generated to consider what can be eliminated.
“We have worked with a number of private schools to eliminate single-use products such as jam, butter and other food spread containers. These containers generate litter and are not recyclable so their elimination commences the thinking of waste reduction at source.”
Another source separation strategy is the removal of under-desk bins in office spaces. These can be replaced by central bin stations, where employees can separate their own waste from co-mingled, general waste and paper separately, preventing contamination and decreasing waste to landfill.
ISS introduced a centralised bin system and removed all under-desk bins at Canberra’s Australian National University, resulting in roughly 1400 tonnes of waste being diverted from landfill. For ISS key accounts manager Shaun Le Feuvre staff awareness has been crucial to the roll out’s success.
“The Australian National University facilities and services division organised a roadshow to discuss the changes [to staff] and how the new system would work –it would have been an uphill battle if this sort of communication did not occur.”
The ‘no under-desk bin’ initiative was rolled out over six weeks, alongside the transition from night to day-time cleaning.
“The contract came up for tender and the university wanted us to come up with solutions to save money and achieve better outcomes. Employing cleaners during the day means they are visible and can build relationships with university staff. It also means offering full time employment rather than part time hours.
“Moving to a centralised bin system is not necessarily cutting edge, but it was a solution that the university hadn’t previously used.
“Before the system was introduced, the under-desk bins were serviced three times a week. Moving to the centralised system resulted in less cleaning time, which in turn resulted in a cost saving for the university and opportunities to focus our attention on other areas resulting in a better outcome.”
Over the last two years, ISS Facility Services has also introduced several different waste streams at Canberra Hospital to divert waste from going to landfill. Today, the hospital has 18 waste streams including e-waste, disposable bed screens, organic waste, metal waste, plastic waste, PVS waste, battery waste and chemical waste.
ISS Facility Services key account manager, Canberra Health Services Craig Sellars says organic waste remains the company’s focus.
“We are currently diverting around four tons of organic waste from landfill but there’s opportunity to divert another 20 to 30 per cent.”
According to Sebastian Waddell, Australian national business development manager for recycling and waste bin manufacturer Method, stakeholders including cleaners, facility managers, tenants, and visitors need to communicate before implementing a new waste management system.
“Recycling can be a complex solution that many people underestimate. The facility can put in a waste system, but the cleaners are the ones managing the physical aspects of that system. Or, a building could plan to implement five waste streams, but the contracted waste resource company will only collect three waste streams.
“There’s so many different elements to a recycling solution and the system won’t work if there is a breakdown in communication and understanding,” he says. adding there is no point implementing a frontline recycling solution, like Method bins, if there isn’t an end solution to back it up.
Method, whose clients include the SCG, the University of Melbourne and Auckland Airport, is currently working on developing partnerships with waste companies to demonstrate how implementing a source separating solution can benefit both the waste company and the cleaning contractor.
“With source separating, you can have 60 litres of waste distributed correctly across five bins, as opposed to one bin that is 60 litres full of waste going straight to landfill.”
Demand for on-selling waste resource to be re-used is also leading many waste companies to expand their source separation systems.
“In Australia, each state’s council and waste collection agency is different. It would be good to see government level changes that simplify and streamline processes nationally, from waste stream colours to what’s being collected and source separated.”
Shifting consumer and business attitudes
Shifting consumer and business attitudes to understand the value of an efficient waste process remains a challenge. For Quayclean’s Piwkowski education is key.
“Providing examples of sites that have successfully implemented a waste strategy is one of the best ways to change an individual’s belief that their actions and choices can make a difference.”
The new waste strategy at the Sydney Opera House, one of the only heritage listed buildings in the world with a 5 star Green Star Rating, has resulted in the removal of general waste bins and installation of source separation techniques in conjunction with Quayclean.
In the past three months, recycling has increased from 58 per cent to 76 per cent, with a target of 85 per cent for 2020.
At Canberra Hospital Sellars admits changing the mindset of staff and the general public is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to managing waste efficiently.
“We don’t have control over the public, but providing the right training and infrastructure gives them the ability to engage in recycling and heightens awareness,” says Sellars.
In August, ISS Facility Services became an accredited Actsmart business. Actsmart is an environmental initiative from the ACT government designed to help businesses and households in the ACT engage in sustainable practices and reduce their impact on the environment.
All 230 of the ISS cleaners at Canberra Hospital are trained in the Actsmart system. Its aim is to have around 1000 ACT Health staff trained in the same system”
Along with the roll out of colour-coded bins and signage that align with the Actsmart system to encourage recycling at Canberra Hospital, ISS also has a waste induction program cleaners have to complete as part of ACT Health’s onboarding process.
ISS also pushes awareness by recruiting hospital volunteers to drive the waste processes and streaming.
Method’s Waddell suggests communication and collaboration to improve waste management in a facility.
“There are still many sceptics. I often hear people saying that they’re not going to bother recycling because ‘it all goes to landfill because it’s contaminated’.
“But waste has become more relevant in the last two years. It’s an evolving movement and we’re only at the beginning. We’ll get around objections by educating people, but also by listening to them and working out why they’re pushing back.”
“If people don’t understand what needs to be done, then there’s no hope for the desired outcome to be achieved.”
However, he says he has witnessed an increase in corporate sustainability teams, specifically responsible for the environmental processes in a building.
“This kind of approach could be taken to include the individual tenants of a building as well in processes, like the cleaning and waste.
“This would involve meeting with tenants, finding out what their current processes are and collaborating about best waste practices that will positively impact everyone in that building. And every month, meeting as a team to discuss costs, goals and pain points.”
According to Piwkowski demonstrations and tours of locations that have successfully implemented improved waste management practices can help convince new or current clients to implement new methods of waste management.
“The biggest challenge we find is getting the individual stakeholders to believe that their efforts can make a difference.
“We meet with the stakeholder groups and hold presentations about sites where we have introduced new waste recycling initiatives that have been successful. We’ve also had clients visit the sites we clean to see in person to help them understand that what we do on the ground can make a difference.
“If everyone does their bit, it will make a huge difference in the years to come for the future generations of Australians.”
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