How to kickstart a new recycling strategy

Riverside's MD Jonathan Oldfield

With the UK’s environmental pressures continuing to mount, recycling and waste management strategies have never been so important. FMs therefore need to think carefully about the services and expertise they offer to clients if they are to ensure both compliance and a greater sustainability stance. In a recent feature in Building & Facilities Management, Jonathan Oldfield, managing director of Riverside Waste Machinery, advised how to kick-start a new on-site recycling strategy. If you missed it you can catch the piece in full here…

Recycling has, for many businesses, long been a priority. A number of organisations – and the individuals within them – are genuinely passionate about reducing their impact on the environment, so have consequently implemented steps to tackle their carbon footprint.

For others, sustainability has simply not been a priority. Perhaps it’s because there’s already enough to worry about on a site. Perhaps there hasn’t been a commercial driver to adopt more environmentally responsible business practices. Or maybe ‘saving the planet’ has been considered someone else’s problem.

Whatever the reason, society is changing, as is the law. Businesses therefore need to think carefully about their own green agenda, and FMs can help them with this.

Kickstarting a new on-site recycling strategy will not be easy, as for many, a complete mindset shift will be required. And a blanket approach will not suit every building and its commercial residents. However, there are some general steps that can be taken to ensure progress in the right direction.

Remember the mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ – it prioritises what businesses should do with commercial waste and in what order. On a simplistic level, it is better to avoid printing emails unless absolutely necessary for example (reduce); unnecessary print outs can be reused as scrap paper; and when the paper has no further on-site use, it should be collected separately for recycling. This philosophy should be applied, where possible, to all materials handled on-site.

Understand legal obligations. Every business has a ‘duty of care’ to store and move waste materials compliantly (see gov.co.uk). This duty lasts until a licensed waste company takes the materials away, but it’s the organisation’s responsibility to prove their certified competence. There are other rules too – a permit is required if a firm produces more than 500kg of hazardous waste per year, materials such as plasterboard must remain separate from the main waste stream, and £2m+ turnover companies handling more than 50 tonnes of packaging waste per annum must register and report to the Environment Agency.

Audit the material stream. It is important to analyse what materials are typically thrown away on-site, on a daily basis, and which could be reused or recycled? Paper, cardboard, aluminium cans, plastic bottles, food? Understanding a site’s waste a little better will help prioritise where action needs to be taken first, and what specific improvements to make. There’s no harm in starting small, and it makes sense to begin with the most problematic ‘waste’ stream. It is even possible to achieve ISO14001 certification for such efforts!

Calculate the cost to dispose of the waste. If a business is not motivated by the environment, focus instead on the financial incentive. It may even be possible to generate a revenue stream from the sale of recyclable materials! The rebate value for cardboard, for example, changes on almost a daily basis, but there is wealth in waste – something that is often overlooked.

Remember confidentiality – The Data Protection Act means that sensitive paperwork, hard drives, and other private electronic data sources must be handled, stored and destroyed securely. Maximum penalties for data breaches were previously £500,000 but with the introduction of GDPR these will escalate further still. At the very least, the services of a specialist confidential waste contractor should be enrolled, who will provide secure receptacles for such materials. For utmost peace of mind, FMs should consider shredding and baling confidential waste on-site. The machinery isn’t expensive to procure, it’s easy to operate and it gives maximum reassurances regarding compliance.

Seek the advice of industry experts. For smaller companies, the simple segregation of materials at source may be enough, but other firms may need specialist recycling equipment to avoid hefty skip charges. Industry experts should therefore be approached for advice and local authorities may be able to offer wider support.

Encourage participation. So many people are expert recyclers in the home, so they may have ideas for workplace improvements which should be incorporated into the new on-site strategy. Then, at ‘roll out’ stage, helpfully communicate what the workforce should do – and how and why it’s important – to achieve ‘buy in’. The initiative is more likely to fail if it’s merely the vision of one person.

Make it easy and fun! Ever-more hectic workloads are becoming increasingly commonplace, so if recycling is complicated, confusing or time-consuming people won’t participate. Keep it light-hearted.

Review and revise. After all this effort, the recycling strategy needs to work. It may not be perfect first time, but if successes – and flaws – are evaluated along the way, continuous improvement will be possible.

Successes should also be shared, not only with employees and tenants, but FM peers and the wider industry too. It might just inspire another building or facilities manager to follow in the same footsteps.