Sydney’s CBD office tenancies are on average renewed every 7 to 10 years. Traditionally a large proportion of the material from these office refurbishments – an estimated 55,000 tonnes – ends up in landfill. That’s 7,333 shipping containers of perfectly good office furniture, work stations and fittings that as a result of time, contractual and cost pressures are adding to a growing waste problem, but it doesn’t need to be like this.

Across the local government area it is estimated that we could in fact be diverting up to 60,000 tonnes of stripout waste from landfill each year across the commercial office, accommodation, entertainment and retail sectors. The opportunities for resource recovery are enormous. The Better Buildings Partnership is working with industry to test alternative approaches, reconceptualise waste as a resource and reduce waste generated from commercial office refurbishments. The Better Buildings Partnership has created a new best practice standard and tools to incentivise and support a 60 to 80% resource recovery target during office strip-out and refurbishment.

Key resources – refurbishment waste research

BBP research undertaken by the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures looked into tenancy fitout material procurement attitudes and practices and identified a great number of issues surrounding refurbishment waste. These ranged from complex contracts and lack of ‘ownership’ of waste between old and new tenancies (as part of fulfilling make good clauses), to the large volumes of waste, and competitive markets for refurbished and reused fitout materials such as workstations.

Other identified barriers to resource recovery included time constraints, contractual responsibilities between sub-contractors and the tenant’s fitout design process. By testing alternative approaches, bringing public and private enterprise together and removing key barriers this research demonstrated the significant opportunity that exists to reduce commercial waste and increase recycling and reuse of fitout materials.

The BBP has also worked with industrial innovators like SMaRT@UNSW and Edge Environment to identify new products from previously unrecyclable waste. The resulting feasibility report demonstrates how a recycled timber product made from discarded office furniture could soon be used in Sydney offices rather than dumped in landfill.

Key resource – stripout waste guidelines

In collaboration with industry and the Sydney Industrial Ecology Network, the partnership has developed Stripout Waste Guidelines. These guidelines create a new best practice standard to achieve a minimum resource recovery target of 60% during the office strip-out and refurbishment process. These guidelines and associated workbook provide a framework to improve stripout operations, procurement processes, and ensure consistent measurement and reporting.

Read about how the guideline principles were applied to a refurbishment at UTS. This social sustainability case study shows how 79% of waste was diverted from landfill largely by donating used furniture and equipment to schools in the Cook Islands.