Towards a zero-waste world

Our hard graft is starting to pay off, said chair of the Better Building Partnership’s (BBP) waste working group, Ben Thomas. After years of management and monitoring, the next step is a shift in mindset. And that means revaluing waste.

“10 years ago, we had bins under every desk, there was never space in the docks for recycling and we had no idea what valuable materials were leaving our buildings straight for the tip,” Ben, The GPT Group’s national manager environment, explains.

What a difference a decade makes.

The BBP’s 12 building owners represent around 2.7 million square metres, or more than half of Sydney’s commercial floor space in the city centre.

“We now have great buildings, good site-based management procedures and real data about actual recycling decisions,” Ben said.

A host of tools and programs, from Green Star and the BBP, to NABERS Waste and the Good Environmental Choice Australia Waste Contractor Standard, are supporting the commercial building sector to wage a serious war on waste.

The BBP waste working group has been focused on two high impact areas: operational and stripout waste.

“For years we were measuring the wrong things, like how many times a yellow bin had been lifted, regardless of whether it was full or empty,” Thomas says. The BBP’s first step was to establish site-based management procedures to “take the rubbish out of recycling data”.

“In true BBP fashion, we looked at what everyone was doing, determined best practice and developed practical guidelines that everyone could implement.”

The BBP’s Operational Waste Guidelines, with its new version released last year, support building owners and managers to collect and analyse the right data, and create consistent waste management systems.

Meanwhile, the working group “started thinking about all the materials leaving our buildings, not just at 2am when the waste contractor came in,” Ben adds.

More than 400,000 sqm of commercial office space is refitted each year in Sydney’s CBD, and just 21% is diverted from landfill. The BBP’s Stripout Waste Guidelines aim to push that figure well beyond, with some members like GPT targeting closed loop recovery of all materials leaving its buildings.

Thomas points to the “fantastic and innovative work” across the industry to reduce waste.

Dexus has developed an office de-fit program to repurpose materials, like desks and white goods, that would otherwise end up in landfill. Furniture has made its way to medical facilities in Vanuatu, surplus computer equipment supports schools in Cambodia, and carpet tiles adorn a surf lifesaving club on Stradbroke Island.

Mirvac is looking at source separation around problem materials, like coffee cups, that typically contaminate recycling, and has engaged social enterprise Mates on the Move to collect and transport separated coffee cups and paper towels from 11 Sydney buildings each week.

Lendlease’s eco-concierge Lucy Sharman is working with the 80-plus retailers at Barangaroo South to use compostable packaging and is focusing on downstream recovery solutions for this important material.

And GPT is looking to avoid waste altogether. Thomas says GPT has partnered with The Cup eXchange, an Australian company offering reusable cups as a service.

“Half of the contamination in our comingled recycling bins can be coffee cups – which means heaps of the recycling goes to landfill because the cleaners and contractors can’t sort it out,” Ben said.

The Cup eXchange enables tenancies to go “paper cup free”, reducing waste stream contamination and waste to landfill. Customers can check out their 100% re-purposable cups at a café and return them at convenient exchange points.

Thomas says GPT’s trial doubled the capture of reusable cups – and that’s after big gains were achieved with awareness and discount campaigns for reusables.

These are just a few examples of the trials underway, and each illustrates the industry’s progress from the days of contaminated under-desk bins everywhere you looked. Thomas says the next step for the partnership requires a big shift in thinking.

“The future direction for the BBP is not to discriminate between waste materials – whether that’s organic recycling or furniture being removed at the end of a tenancy. Good waste management is about revaluing everything that goes in and out of our buildings,” Thomas adds.

“The purpose of the BBP is to do better together. We need to keep our eyes on that flag on the hill – and to move towards that flag together.”

The BBP and Green Building Council of Australia will host two workshops, Targeting Zero Waste, on 2 April in Melbourne and 4 April in Sydney, to unpack innovations in waste management practices and explore how circular economy solutions can best manage our resources.

And the BBP Operational Waste Masterclass on 3 April in Melbourne and 5 April in Sydney will help practitioners implement the BBP Operational Waste Guidelines in their own buildings. Discounts are available for BBP members. Simply use discount code WASTE20 when you register.