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Case study: Winning the war against waste

Case Study | 01 Sep 2020

For a very visible problem, waste has been a hidden challenge. But with the help of the NABERS Waste tool, some building managers are posting impressive recycling rates, cutting costs and engaging tenants in circular economy thinking.

Waste management by the numbers

  • Australians create 67 million tonnes of waste each year, according to the National Waste Report
  • The typical commercial office waste bin, says the NSW Environment Protection Authority, contains 76% paper and cardboard, 12% food waste and 6% glass and plastic – all of which can be recycled
  • Better waste management delivers a 10% cost saving, says the Better Buildings Partnership
  • A 5% efficiency improvement could deliver a $24 billion annual boost to GDP, according to estimates in the National Waste Policy.
  • The average 4.5 star NABERS Waste building features 5 waste streams, which increases to 11 waste streams for a 6 star NABERS Waste property.


Avoid the ground and send it back round

Each year, every Australian creates around 2.7 tonnes of waste – about the same weight as an African elephant. Most of that material – from paper to plastic, glass to metal – is lost to landfill.

The industrialised world’s approach to waste has always been based on linear logic: take natural resources, make products from them and then dispose of them at the end of their useful life.

But a new way of thinking – one in which products and materials circulate in a ‘closed loop’ – is gaining traction.

“A true circular economy is still some way off, but we have tools available that can help us better measure and manage our precious resources – and one of those tools is NABERS Waste,” says Peter Hosking.

Director of Great Forest Australia, Peter is an experienced NABERS Assessor who has spent three decades at the frontline of sustainability. During this time, Peter has helped his clients divert more than 120,000 tonnes of waste from landfill through comprehensive waste audits and recycling programs.

When we conduct forensic audits, we often find up to 90% of the waste sent to landfill is recyclable. Sift out anything that has a potential second life, and you will usually find there isn’t much that can’t be recycled or eliminated in the first place. 
Peter Hosking, NABERS Assessor

The power of big buildings

Waste streams are flows of specific waste, from its source through to recovery, recycling or disposal. The more clean, separate waste streams, the more likely the waste is to find a second life beyond the bin.

Buildings play an important role in creating high quality waste streams due to the volume of recyclable material that passes through their doors.

Australia’s recycling rates, revealed in the National Waste Report, points to the possibilities:

  • 90% of metal is recycled
  • 57% of glass
  • 60% paper and cardboard
  • 12% plastic
  • 11% of organic food waste.

Take 580 George Street, owned by The GPT Group, which boasts a 4 star NABERS Waste rating after diverting 44% of its waste through paper, cardboard, organics, mixed container and e-waste recycling services.

Dexus’ 1 Bligh Street, which achieved a 4.5 star NABERS Waste rating in 2019, promotes four separate waste streams: paper and cardboard; mixed recycling; organic waste; and general waste. Dexus has also implemented smart strategies to encourage building users to think before they bin. A quarterly e-waste collection service, for example, tackles the thorny problem of batteries, which sees 8,000 tonnes – a massive 97% – end up in landfill each year.

And then there’s Australia’s top NABERS Waste building, 171 Collins Street in Melbourne, which achieved six stars with an impressive 11 waste streams. An onsite waste system tracks data in real time, allowing the team to analyse and address any peaks in waste production.

“Because NABERS offers a unified and systematised way of reporting waste, it can help building owners ensure waste stay ‘top of mind’ even through tenancy changes,” Peter explains. This unified approach can also inform waste policy at a national level across all building types.

Why address waste?

Peter Hosking says the biggest success factor for building and facility management teams to “understand and communicate the value” of a reduce, reuse and recycling campaign with tenants. The organisations that understand that value, and then are prepared to take proactive steps, can reap a lot of rewards:

  1. Cut costs: “Waste management may cost just 1% of your operational budget, but that figure is going up every year as landfill costs and levies rise,” Peter explains. “We know from our analysis that smaller buildings play a disproportionately high price for the management of their waste – so efforts to tackle this now will pay off as costs rise by around 5% each year.”
  2. Streamline reporting: Tracking waste management activities in one platform, with a standard set of metrics, makes it easier to share information and make comparisons. “One of the great benefits of the NABERS Waste tool is the graphs and indicators make it easy to monitor and benchmark performance over time,” Peter explains.
  3. Engage employees: Waste management is the most visible example of a company’s commitment to sustainability. According to Planet Ark, 80% of employees want to see more recycling in their workplaces, and 71% see recycling facilities as a sign of a responsible employer.
  4. Drive down emissions: Careful waste management eradicates greenhouse gas emissions. Making goods from recycled materials typically requires less energy than those from virgin materials – and reducing consumption prevents the need to extract, transport and process the raw materials in the first place.

NABERS measures and manages

Since the NABERS Waste rating tool was launched in 2018, 74 buildings have achieved ratings and dozens more are in the pipeline.

NABERS Waste helps building and facilities managers to benchmark their buildings against best practice waste generation, recycling and resource recovery, as well as supply chain management.

The rating is powered by an online platform which tracks waste data across an eye-watering 51 waste streams and converts information into actionable insights.

The platform can be used by any building type and calculates a NABERS rating of up to six stars for offices.

A Material Recovery Score is also applied to measure the quality of every waste stream that leaves the building. The score indicates how much pollution is created in disposal of the waste stream and the resources lost at each stage of the production chain.

This gives building owners and managers another way to work towards the circular economy, and to share their efforts to steward waste.

- 74 ratings since 2018
- One to six star ratings, from “making a start” to “market leader”
- An average rating of 3 stars represents “market standard”
- An average recycling rate of 39.7%
- 51 waste streams tracked, from cardboard to cooking oil, paper towel to polystyrene, secure paper to soft plastics.

Success story: 77 Grenfell Street, Adelaide

By sharing our stories and scaling our trials, we can bring system-level thinking to the war on waste.

One of Australia’s biggest success stories is hidden behind the unassuming façade of Adelaide’s 77 Grenfell Street managed by the Real Estate Management team of Colliers International providing property and facilities management services.

The office, just metres from the city’s Rundle Mall, boasts the first NABERS Waste rating in South Australia, and the 4.5 stars makes it one of the highest NABERS Waste ratings in the country.

The 20-storey building – which comprises 15,800 of office space and 596 sqm of ground floor retail – was more than 20 years old when it achieved the stellar result.

“77 Grenfell Street shows how buildings can achieve better environmental outcomes without the need for capital expenditure,” explains Himadri Chatterjee, Director of Facilities Management for Colliers International.

“When we first started thinking about how to improve the environmental performance of the building, we wanted to look beyond what was already being done. The full spectrum of sustainability is about more than energy and water. There’s air quality, land use, health and wellbeing and, of course, waste.”

You don’t need to upgrade your building infrastructure to be waste efficient. With good processes, data and education campaigns, you can make a significant contribution to the environment and lead in the waste space.
Himadri Chatterjee, Director of Facilities Management, Colliers International

Himadri says the NABERS Waste platform is “simple to use”. His team began by gathering and analysing 12 months of data. “This helped us to identify waste reduction strategies like awareness campaigns and additional process controls,” he explains.

Colliers also appointed special NABERS Waste champions and launched a training program for the building’s cleaning agency.

“Educating cleaners is a very important step, because they are responsible for ensuring the right waste goes in the right bin. We trained cleaners on not just on what to do, but also why we were doing it and what we wanted to achieve.”

The recycling rate at 77 Grenfell Street is now 80% – an outcome that Himadri says puts it among the best offices in the country.

The team behind 77 Grenfell Street is far from resting on its laurels. Himadri says they are now harnessing various technological tools and real-time data on a day to day basis to uncover additional insights to improve their NABERS Waste rating.

“We’ve been on a steep learning curve, but we’re also applying all the lessons from 77 Grenfell to the multi-tenanted 1 King William Street, a premium grade A building in Adelaide CBD. We are ready for the challenge,” Himadri says.

Five steps to NABERS success

How do you achieve a NABERS rating?

  1. Get started: Register your building on the NABERS Waste platform and engage a NABERS accredited assessor to undertake an audit.
  2. Gather your data: Collect 12 months of operational waste data, as well as details about the size and features of your building. Your assessor will guide you.
  3. Seek buy-in: Engage with your contractors, cleaners and waste providers – not to mention the people who work in your building – to explain why a NABERS Waste rating matters. Appoint waste champions to spread the word.
  4. Achieve NABERS certification: Upload your data, work with your assessor during site visits to validate your rating, and then communicate your progress.
  5. Improve your rating: Take action to improve recycling rates and reduce consumption over the next 12 months. Collect data to feed back into your next rating to track your performance.

NABERS has a Waste rating for offices, and other sectors can take advantage of the waste platform for only $450 per year. The option for a NABERS Waste verification report for sectors that do not have a rating tool yet will be released in autumn 2021.