Reduce, reuse, recycle

Published:  17 June, 2014

Reducing waste is a hot topic for any shopping centre with government pressure and incentives forcing businesses to take a closer look at their green credentials and gear operational efficiencies towards a more sustainable future.  

From centres just beginning on the journey to zero landfill to centres surpassing 90 per cent recycling rates, there is always more that can be done whether it’s reducing waste related mileage, dealing with food waste or inspiring tenants to get on board, and as well as the green benefits, the rewards can be big in terms of both cost-saving and income generated.

After a change of owner and managing agent in 2010, the team at Merseyway in Stockport re-assessed the centre’s operational processes and made sustainability their priority, changing the way they managed waste to reduce waste to landfill and maximise recycling opportunities, reducing the associated costs, and generally creating an environmentally friendly ethos with all staff and tenants encouraged to increase their green efforts.

At the time, cardboard and plastic was collected from the tenants by one of the contract cleaners using a truck that used around 4,000 litres of diesel per year (and required a large petrol tank for refilling which took up space in the basement). The materials were then compacted and stored before being taken away by a third party. And the rest of the tenants’ waste was deposited in skips, removed three times a week and sorted off-site where about 30 per cent was recycled.

“The operations manager and I sat down and worked out what we could do,” says centre manager, Brendan Webb. “We looked at the budget, thought about how we could streamline the five main service areas and audited absolutely everything.”

Since then a number of new processes have been introduced, including forming a dedicated recycling team of two men from the centre’s cleaning contractor ICS, installing cardboard, plastic and can balers, replacing the diesel truck with an electric vehicle and reducing pick-ups from three to two per week.

The changes have resulted in zero to landfill, a 96 per cent recycling rate and a cut in costs of over 25 per cent from £85,000 to £60,000, with all savings repaid to the service charge.

“The recycling team have been fantastic,” says Webb. “They go around to the skips at the back of tenants’ units, pull out all the recyclable material, put it into the balers and pack it up. Eighty per cent of our waste is now recycled on-site and the rest is taken away by our waste contractor B&M who further segregate and recycle as much as they can.”

The team has introduced recycling stations into all tenants’ staff rooms with daily collections and cleaning staff wear new uniforms emblazoned with the words ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’. And Webb is keen to make further progress, motivating staff with his catchphrase ‘Sustainability makes sense’.

While the Holy Grail for all centres is to reach a 100 per cent recycling rate, or as close to that as possible, for centres sending the majority of their waste to landfill but keen to embark on a greener strategy, recovering waste is one of the first steps towards a more efficient future.

Last year, Clifton Down shopping centre in Bristol – comprising 20 shops and anchored by Sainsbury’s - set about reducing its environmental impact, with an aim to halve the 60 tonnes of waste it sent to landfill every year.

The first step was to re-tender its waste contract, which it awarded to Saica Natur. “They send us monthly reports with data broken down into different waste streams,” says centre manager Rikki Teml. “It provides a snapshot of what we’re achieving; it was the excellent reporting that attracted us to them.”

Centre and broker worked together closely to beat its target, achieving zero to landfill, with all waste either recycled or recovered using New Earth’s Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant in Avonmouth, and reducing costs by 14 per cent.

“We installed a cardboard compactor, allowing us to store twice as much on-site and halving the number of journeys needed to transport it off-site,” says Teml. “And the life expectancy of the plant is now longer.”

He says a key element of their success was communication with both tenants and the centre’s visitors, something the team tackled with a two-pronged approach, as he explains: “First we established an environmental statement detailing our aims and commitments, something shared with tenants during our regular meetings. That evolved into the introduction of a tenant environmental committee where we share ideas and successes, introduce best practice, and talk about any upcoming changes in legislation - it’s really useful.”

Next was communication with visitors: “We started by installing an environmental noticeboard on the mall telling people what we’d achieved but also what they can recycle where – glasses in Specsavers, coffee grounds in Starbucks and Christmas cards in Sainsbury’s – it’s amazing to see how many people read it and comment on the work we’re doing.”

And the hard work has paid off, with Teml presenting Clifton’s environmental progress to Workman’s retail conference for others to follow. But there are still improvements to be made on the recycling side, and Teml’s focus going forward is to segregate more of the materials on site.

“We certainly won’t rest on our laurels and continue to explore all opportunities to reduce our environmental impact while also making further cost savings for our tenants,” he says.

While recycling rates vary hugely from centre to centre, there are few shopping centres, large or small, where nothing is being done to streamline the management of waste in order to ease the strain of landfill and the industry’s significant environmental impact. With new legislation in the pipeline, waste will have to be segregated into various streams on site, but pressure from the government and CSR commitments aren’t the only incentives to make positive changes, with the cost-savings involved making commercial sense too.

Dealing with food waste

St Stephen’s shopping centre in Hull recently installed a new food-to-water recycling system, making it the first in the Yorkshire region and one of the first centres in the UK to install its own food waste treatment plant.

The foodcourt equipment enables the team to recycle the 65 tonnes of food waste generated each year, rather than sending it for incineration, increasing recycling by more than 10 per cent, saving £5,000 a year on haulage costs, and converting waste into 60,000 litres of water, cutting carbon emissions in the process.

“The machines act pretty much like a large human stomach, churning up the food and turning it into water in only a few hours,” explains Tony van der Vliet, deputy centre manager at St Stephen’s.

The recycling process turns food waste into grey water and the system can be integrated with other centre operations, with the water used for watering plants or flushing toilets, for example.

“As more and more shopping centre operators look to maximise efficiency, reduce carbon footprints and importantly implement innovative cost saving measures, our food-to-water kit is quickly becoming an important addition to centre foodcourts across the UK and Europe,” says Neil Daniells, managing director of Enviro-Waste, which designed and supplied the equipment.

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