What are we stripping out?
In three years, recycling rates from office refurbishment in Sydney have nearly trebled. Studies by the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) have traced recycling rates from an average of 21 percent in 2014 to over 60 percent in 2016.
This success has been driven by public commitments to 60 percent and above resource recovery from BBP members, the development of specialist recycling guidance, standardised reporting and NSW’s ever-increasing landfill levy.
The response from the recycling market to the resource recovery directives implemented by property owners has been rapid with the reuse/recycling of plasterboard, glass, metals, carpet and furniture all transitioning to common practice.
TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR STRIPOUT WASTE
Despite more than 25,000 tonnes of waste being generated annually in the Sydney CBD, reporting of o ice stripout waste has never found a logical home, and thus incentive, in any building industry rating tool. Consider this: expired fitouts are of no interest to outgoing tenants, even less to incoming tenants, and building managers aren’t necessarily responsible for what is left to remove. Consequently, accountability for ‘making good’ a tenancy has always been hard to determine.
The ‘make-good’ obligation is the mechanism built into leases that specifies an obligation to return a tenancy to the state it was in at the commencement of the lease. Further, while the delivery of these works most commonly falls on building managers, it is also very feasible that a tenant may elect to return the building to its shell before vacating.
Stripout waste is that generated in the demolition of an existing fitout to return it to ‘base building’ components, and typically comprises plasterboard, metals, glass, furniture, laminated timber, ceiling tiles and carpet tiles. Benchmarked against the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority’s (NSW EPA’s) average construction and demolition recycling rate of 69 percent in 2014, stripout waste has clearly been a forgotten aspect of building performance.
TRANSFORMING THE STATUS QUO
The BBP is a group of Sydney’s largest property owners, and an industry leadership group that strives to constantly define leading practice. In collaboration with the NSW EPA’s Circulate program (which funded Edge Environment’s involvement) the BBP Stripout Waste Guidelines were released in June 2016, redefining industry reporting standards and outlining a clear case for on-site separation of materials and recycling.
When Edge Environment and the BBP first commenced work in this space, there was little known about what types of materials were being disposed of and in what quantity. The ‘mixed waste’ component of reporting was, at times, greater than 80 percent. With a number of recurring materials generated in stripout waste (plasterboard, furniture, glass, metals, flooring and ceilings) the first work taken on by the BBP was a specification of a typical waste stream for an o ice refurbishment. An average breakdown of materials types (by weight) in a fitout is given in the above chart.
THE OPPORTUNITY IN STRIPOUT WASTE
Recycling markets and outlets for many construction materials have received a boost in recent years with significant
cost increases to landfill rates, investment in recycling infrastructure and also growing awareness.
Lower costs of separating and disposing of recyclable materials, along with well- documented waste streams and effective on-site contamination management, have driven significant reform in the industry, and the views of the BBP are now turning from the operational aspects of projects to the future. The aggregation of waste material data provides a powerful source of reference for potential investors in recycling infrastructure.
With well-documented and forecast rates of churn in CBD office space and an accurate profile of waste generation and composition, improved contamination management and transport efficiencies will assist in developing the business case for new recycling infrastructure.
The table above outlines the typical recycling methods for various material streams in the Sydney region. Ceiling tiles, carpets (broadloom), laminated timbers, textiles and any other composite, however, are still sent to landfill due to a lack of available recycling infrastructure – a critical loss to the productive economy, given the scale of projects generating these materials. In some cases, the infrastructure and technology to recycle these products is already available elsewhere in the world (exclusive of waste to energy); however, a lack of insight into waste generation patterns in Australia has hindered the investment in infrastructure.
The work of the BBP, NSW EPA and Edge Environment has already transformed the way that stripouts are delivered in the CBD, but the true legacy of this work will be the changes to recycling infrastructure and recycling outlets.
BUILDING RECYCLING CAPACITY
We live in an increasingly data-rich industry, and the wealth of information available through the BBP and other industry bodies is hugely underutilised by business. There is the opportunity to innovate, but also the need to stay relevant as new technologies and manufacturing processes continue to redefine what can realistically be considered a ‘waste’ product.
A circular approach to stewardship is already being developed by a number of suppliers in this space and the commitments of carpet manufactures, plasterboard suppliers and furniture manufacturers to take back product has already proven to be a differentiator in this market. Product stewardship is one aspect of the fitout design phase that is already being heavily preferred in a range of building rating tools and is slowly becoming an expectation for buyers.
Given the minimal costs of sourcing unwanted materials, there is unprecedented opportunity for manufacturers, re-processors and aggregators of materials to review the inputs and by-products of their processes.
Information is the first piece of the puzzle – and it is right there if you want it.