In mid-2018, just a few months into his new role, Assistant Facilities Manager at Westfield Parramatta, Akin Mehmet, was faced with a major challenge.
“Driven in part by the global economic climate around cardboard recycling, and in part by a new waste services contract we had entered into with SUEZ, our cardboard contamination threshold dropped from five per cent to zero,” he explains.
“This basically meant there was no room for error in our cardboard recycling stream.”
As a result, his team suddenly found large volumes of cardboard waste – up to 40 or 45 tonnes a month – being rejected and sent to landfill. This not only clashed with the team’s passion, environmental targets and commitment to waste reduction and recycling, but presented an increased cost to the business.
“Between September 2018 and June 2019, we lost 185 tonnes of cardboard to contamination which is a lose-lose situation – it’s a loss for the environment and our stated recycling targets and practices, and it’s a loss for our operational costs due to a reduction in our cardboard recycling rebate and increased landfill disposal costs,” says Akin.
SUEZ National Key Account Manager, Neil Thornley, explains that contamination occurs when any waste other than cardboard or paper is placed in the cardboard bin.
“The most common cause of contamination is boxes not being broken down or flattened. Inside the boxes will be plastic, polystyrene, coat hangers, food scraps etc. The next most common is general waste bags being thrown into cardboard bins,” Neil says.
For Akin and the Westfield Parramatta team, the challenge was clear – they needed to figure out how to dramatically reduce cardboard contamination in an efficient and financially-viable way.
“My first steps were to work with SUEZ to get their take on the problem, then I surveyed our retail partners to get a better understanding of their waste disposal requirements and habits. It was really successful and we got a 90 per cent return rate,” says Akin.
Armed with the survey data, Akin developed a business case to support the need for resources to man key locations at peak times to help educate retailers and minimise contamination risk.
“I also worked closely with Ezko, our cleaning contractor, who provided a team member to rotate between the two main loading docks during the day to intercept any incorrect waste disposal habits by our retail partners,” he says.
“This SUEZ team, along with everyone on my team, has a strong focus on tenant education, particularly during the busy periods identified in the survey. We also run ‘Dock Day’ training for half a day once a month in collaboration with SUEZ,” Akin explains.
SUEZ worked alongside the Westfield Parramatta team implement the Dock Day training in order to focus on tenant education.
“One of the best ways to avoid contamination is to separate waste at the source,” says Neil.
“This involved SUEZ discussing the current waste separation practises with each visitor to the dock and supplying best practise separation guides. Follow up visits were arranged with food retailers and larger retail stores to help them improve their waste separation within the tenancy. Part of the education program was to explain what happened to each of the recycling waste streams, and how they became new products again. We also explained the environmental impact of recycling and reducing the amount of waste going to landfill,” he said.
The results speak for themselves. Westfield Parramatta doubled its average recycled cardboard from 40 tonnes per month for the six months to June 2019 to almost 80 tonnes in July and August 2019.
Overall, Akin says he is incredibly proud of his team and what they have achieved for both the business and the wider environment.
“Although this strategy brought us exceptional results (our rejection rate is now under 10 tonnes a month), it is not 100 per cent foolproof. We will continue to monitor the situation and I plan to do another survey in February 2020 to see what else we can learn,” says Akin.
As for waste reduction advice for his peers, he is emphatic:
“Research, research, research! The most powerful weapon we have is data and the relationships with our retail partners. Without the survey we would never have been able to do what we did.”
In 2020, Scentre Group will increase its focus on improved environmental best practice sharing and learning across its portfolio of Westfield Living Centres.
To read more about Scentre Group’s environmental targets, visit https://www.scentregroup.com/about-us/sustainability