Why is workplace recycling so hard to get right? – Australia

Posted on July 27, 2021 by DrRossH in Plastic Waste News

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In Australia, every year over 20 million tonnes of waste goes to landfill from the commercial and industrial sector according to the National Waste Report 2020. The report also shows that while recycling rates are increasing so is the volume of waste produced overall. So it really comes as no surprise that recycling and sustainable business practices have become a social requirement for being in business and remaining competitive. However, recycling is at best imperfect and confusing, particularly when it comes to the workplace.

While most of us recycle at home, in the workplace people can become disengaged and thoughtless as they hustle through their workday surviving on caffeine and lunch from the deli next door. In an office where individuals aren’t required to take out the rubbish at the end of the day, it can be hard to see the cumulative impact of individual decisions. Or worse, ineffective systems that make it simple for users to place all of their waste into a general waste bin such as desk bins.

Workplace recycling is further complicated by the industry as a whole; we have a long way to go in the way we design products and their packaging, standardising the collection and making it widely available.

Take soft plastics, for example. This is a material that businesses produce in large quantities from bubble wrap, food and other packaging — it begins to add up. Most large-scale waste management organisations don’t collect it as it’s not a profitable waste stream. Issues such as these make it difficult or near impossible for organisations to impact their workplace waste beyond the common recyclables. Should it be the organisation’s responsibility to tackle industry-level issues?

Yes and no. As a business we have the responsibility to procure thoughtfully, purchasing with confidence that there is an end of life solution where possible. The good news is that there are already pioneers out there who are tackling many of the hard to recycle materials.

Recycle Smart, for example, operates across Sydney with organisations and households to collect hard to recycle materials including e-waste, soft plastics, textiles and other miscellaneous items from books to CDs.

It can seem so simple at times, but it takes an investment in getting the infrastructure set up and an ongoing commitment to review and adjust to meet the needs of your space.

Method worked with McConnel Dowell, a partner on the Western Program Alliance (WPA) Level Crossing, to implement a 5-stream Method Recycling System complete with custom signage. They dedicated a project manager to ensure that the recycling system was not only effective but a turn-key solution that they could use at their other sites.

To achieve this they knew it was important to consider the waste management supply chain and how to set up their system to ensure that the materials maintained their quality during recycling.

Going this extra mile to ensure extra waste streams can be recycled was initially a challenge. However, once they knew how the waste processing facilities needed waste and recycling to be separated, they were able to confidently establish additional bins for segregating materials that would otherwise be ‘comingled’ or ‘landfilled’.

The results really spoke for themselves. Within the first week of rolling out a 5-bin system, their waste to landfill was reduced by approximately 80%. In particular, the customised signage above the bins, education and encouragement around recycling has exceeded expectations. The intuitive system of recycling bin stations has reduced contamination rates to an incredible 2%.

Keeping your team engaged