Managing refurbishment waste: how to recycle 60 percent or more
Office stripout waste is a factor of building performance that has been largely missed by many of the established industry rating tools, and yet it is known to contribute over 25,000 tonnes of waste in the Sydney CBD every year. Knowing how to utilise the resources available to building managers and contractors will help you deliver refurbishment projects with the highest possible environmental outcomes and at no extra cost.
In response to this issue, the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) released its Stripout Waste Guidelines in June 2016 with support from Edge Environment and the NSW Environment Protection Authority. This handbook to industry provides a complete guide to recycling opportunities in refurbishment and direction on aligning stakeholder incentives to maximise resource recovery.
The extent of the problem
The average commercial lease in Sydney is seven years, which results in as much as 400,000 square metres of leased office space being refurbished within the City of Sydney each year.
Incorporating the fringing commercial areas of Parramatta, North Sydney and Chatswood, this number could be significantly higher. Tragically, at the end of tenancy, standard practice is to return the space to its shell, removing all internal fittings and walls and leaving exposed ceilings and concrete floors. Oftentimes, these spaces could have been fitted out as little as a year prior.
Waste generation from the refurbishment is in the range of 50 to 90 tonnes per 1000 square metres and is estimated to be an average of 62 tonnes per 1000 square metres. While we have observed recycling rates upwards of 70 percent through the application of the BBP Stripout Waste Guidelines, early research during 2014 demonstrated that recycling rates across the industry may have been as low as 20 percent.
With contributions to fitouts and no ‘make-good’ incentives common in leasing deals, the property industry typically neglects any consideration of resource recovery during stripout. Compounded by the intent of property funds to return spaces to productive use as soon as possible, refurbishment waste has long been absent from the increasing awareness of whole of life building impacts.
Property leaders taking action
In response to social and environmental issues affecting the built environment, the BBP provides a forum for major property owners to take a leadership position in the industry. Along with commitments to energy efficiency, green leasing and the like, this group of Sydney’s 14 largest property owners is now implementing the guidelines with the intention of establishing resource recovery of more than 60 percent as standard in the industry.
The BBP’s Stripout Waste Guidelines address common procurement and contract clauses used in refurbishment projects and reporting. With the guidelines, a reporting template is provided that automates resource recovery calculations, and provides an inventory and furniture reuse template, a directory of recycling facilities in Sydney and a density conversion tool.
From the data collected by BBP members, the average composition of stripout waste (by weight) is 40 percent furniture and fittings, equal parts (15 and 20 percent) glass, plasterboard and metals, with a smaller residual component of carpets, ceiling tiles, concrete and general waste.
Fortunately, most stripout waste can be recycled (see infographic) and of that which can’t, the majority is furniture that happens to have the best prospect for reuse. There is a perception in the industry that furniture recovery is ineffective and difficult to facilitate; however, trials by the BBP show otherwise.
If the scope of demolition includes the removal of furniture, it will invariably go to landfill, the most expensive fate for any material. In Sydney, this would be more than $300 a tonne plus labour. Be under no illusions that this cost is passed directly to the building manager or tenant paying for the works.
However, there is a financial case to undertake furniture recovery prior to demolition, with the crucial addition of a clause triggering a reduction in scope and cost according to the volume of furniture reused prior to demolition.
In recent refurbishments, Edge Environment, operating on behalf of building owners, has been able to divert as much as 28 tonnes of furniture from single tenancies. In these projects, site inventories have been developed and circulated to interested parties, with local public schools, start-ups, charities and second-hand furniture dealers all finding ways to reuse this furniture at no cost to the building manager other than administering the process.
In these cases, the cost of rehoming this furniture was less than its cost of removal during demolition, and delivered a far better environmental outcome.
Where to from here
The circular economy is here now, and the technology to transform waste plasterboard into agricultural soil amendments, waste plate glass into insulation and hardfill into aggregate is proliferating. Not only do these recycling outlets provide excellent environmental outcomes, but they also charge a lower gate fee than landfill in most parts of the country.
The BBP Stripout Waste Guidelines provides a detailed outline of technical and contractual aspects to be considered along with a toolkit for your contractors to deliver improved recycling rates. With simple additions to tender documents and clear communication of expectations to contractors at the procurement stage, building managers can ensure superior environmental outcomes for their facilities.
Written by Blake Lindley, the senior consultant at Edge Environment. He works primarily in Edge’s resource recovery projects delivering innovation and behavioural change in the property and waste sectors.
Documents referenced in text:
BBP Stripout Waste Guidelines: www.betterbuildingspartnership.com.au/resource/stripout-waste-guidelines-procurement-systems-and-reporting
Governor Macquarie Tower Case Study: http://cdn.sydneybetterbuildings.com.au/assets/2015/12/ Governor-Macquarie-Tower-stripout-trial-report.pdf
This article also appears in the December/January issue of Facility Management magazine.