– Or is it…?

As a busy facilities management professional, waste and recycling can never be that far away from your daily agenda. But have you been truly proactive in this area recently?

You may well have a first-class recycling scheme in place, effectively segregating higher value items, be fully on top of your contamination levels and have read the recently updated BIFM Good Practice Guide to Recycling and Waste Management, but how many of you have plans to move beyond the status quo? Do you really have the best solution for all the waste streams arising from your buildings, including ad hoc items from refurbishments and building clearance wastes?

Whilst clearly there are some very proactive organisations out there, how does waste management sit more broadly within the FM field in terms of progression? Are you simply trying to increase recycling levels, or are you more progressive and actively engaged in supporting reuse and waste minimisation strategies?

We lose focus on the bigger picture with our fixation on recycling levels. The reality is, if waste prevention and reuse are prioritised, as they should be with the waste hierarchy, then the focus should be on gaining metrics on these, not simply just monitoring recycling levels. How many FMs are measuring reuse?

Reuse isn’t always easy; it has an identity crisis. One might be delighted to receive an antique piece of jewellery or a quality second hand car yet we are not so good at specifying reused ceiling tiles, or office furniture.

The increasing influence of sustainability standards such as BREAAM and SKA are positively influencing behaviour and there are some great case studies of best practice out there, so there is some good news. But how can we do better, and how can we make reuse of quality materials the norm throughout the FM sector?

Firstly, consider a reuse policy and how this could help focus your organisation to move from a recycling focus to a wider sustainability focus, encompassing reuse and minimisation. I can strongly recommend the enthusiastic guidance from Warp-IT as a great starting point.

Secondly, consider the waste streams that sit outside of typical office recycling schemes, for example fit-out waste and office clearance waste. How are these items disposed of?

There is an increasing number of excellent reuse schemes out there. They may initially take a little more effort, but the rewards in terms of cost, environmental impact and social good are there to be had. You may not only find great ways that your redundant items can be reused, but may also find that quality reused items are available to meet some of your “new” requirements.

Take carpet tiles as an example. GreenStream is a fantastic social enterprise that not only takes away carpet for reuse but also has a great online shop for cleaned and repackaged carpet tiles. Do those storerooms and printer rooms really need brand new carpet?

Identifying charities that may want to use items that are being cleared can be onerous but online portals such as GlobeChain and Freegle are a good starting point.

IT and communications equipment is packed full of rare and valuable metals; simply recycling these without looking at reuse is no longer best practice. Security is an understandable issue, but it is not insurmountable and the carbon and cost savings from reusing these valuable pieces of equipment is really significant.

Finally, my pet hate – office furniture waste. A Facilities Director once asked me: “When did office furniture become disposable??” I can’t pinpoint the date but our environment is paying the price for this trend. I have seen landfill sites packed full of the stuff, millions of items disposed of every year, many of which still had a financial and social value.

So when considering what to do with old furniture, why not firstly see if it can be remanufactured, repaired, or refurbished to meet your new requirements. You can check out what Premier are doing at The Renew Centre.

There are limited resources on this planet and the last few decades have seen us grow a linear model of consumption where these limited resources are generally used to create items for very short term use. Recycling is good, but it is not solving the problem. We need to move to circular models of business that extend the life-cycle of our existing resources and then we need to make sure that new products are being designed and developed with circular concepts at the heart of them.

If you want to get really adventurous then perhaps you can start to look at your organisation with a circular focus. Are there items you procure that could be rented? Are there items that you own that you could share? Are there items you are disposing of that could be repaired, refurbished or reused by someone else?

When you start to think about it in these terms, the FM function has a great role to play in helping to change society’s perception of what is considered a waste and how it can be used.

Originally published on behalf of the BIFM Sustainability Special Interest Group.