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Closing the Loop

17 February 2009

Recycling is a first step towards an environmentally aware approach to operations. Closed-loop recycling goes further by reducing the raw materials, fuel and embodied carbon emissions of a replacement product, as Anthony Pearlgood explains

WHEN MANAGED CORRECTLY RECYCLING REPRESENTS A COST saving measure for organisations, compared to the steadily increasing levy on landfill - currently at £32 per tonne. This cost will only escalate , tripling over the next two years to nearly £50 a tonne. This in itself is as good a reason as any to recycle more, and send less waste to landfill.

Applying a ‘closed-loop’ to recycling is a means of delivering efficiencies. However, it is more time-consuming because of the need to sort waste streams effectively, and remove these from the premises for processing efficiently. Closedloop recycling has clear benefits where organisations are partnering with outsourced waste management experts, looking to save operating costs and introduce measures that can have a positive impact on the bottom line in other supply and procurement areas.

At its simplest, closed-loop recycling refers to the removal of a waste stream from an organisation’s premises, the processing of that waste into useful materials, and the return of the materials to the customer, for use within the business. Typical is waste paper which is collected and taken from the site to a depot where it is shredded and the bales sold on to a paper mill. Here it is processed and manufactured into stationary or other paper-based consumables, such as toilet paper or napkins for re-sale to the customer.

Other areas of recycling that lend themselves to a closed-loop approach include food, which can be removed from large office canteens by a composting specialist, composted and returned to the organisation for staff to use in their own gardens. Likewise the practice of saving and refilling printer cartridges is long-established.

Helping elderly
WEEE can also lend itself as a waste stream to the benefits of cost savings through refurbishment and selling on to staff by the company. Age Concern London is one organisation seeing the benefit of this kind of approach to recycling. PHS Maxitech, part of Datashred, is an electronic equipment recycling and refurbishment specialist. It is running a campaign for Age Concern that sees the refurbishment and reuse of its old electronic equipment to help the elderly community become computer-wise.

As a result of this partnership, Age Concern benefits from PHS Maxitech’s core business function – collecting unwanted, redundant computers from businesses and organisations and refurbishing them to a working standard. This provides an ethical and environmental solution to the growing problem of waste electrical goods and enables organisations to comply with the requirements of the WEEE Directive.

The collaboration involves the donation of refurbished computers to Age Concern for free distribution to older people signed up to the scheme. To date, the scheme has enabled the donation of some 1,100 computers to the elderly around London.

Under the scheme older people are provided the opportunity to gain valuable and otherwise unavailable IT knowledge and skills, something that Age Concern strongly links to the reduction in social isolation. It says that 36 per cent of those who received a computer commented that it has dramatically improved their daily life.

Thuraisha Naidoo, a Key Account Manager at Maxitech, emphasises the benefits of the scheme for other organisations like Age Concern, “Maxitech has been involved in the computer donation scheme since 2006. Over this time we have delivered more than a thousand computers to Age Concern centres across London.

“The scheme not only contributes to our own corporate responsibility agenda, but it also delivers a much-needed service to many older people who previously had little or no access to IT equipment. Some 74 per cent of recipients have said that it has improved their IT knowledge.”

Pearl Grant, who received a computer through the scheme with Age Concern, has found it has greatly increased her knowledge of IT, “My computer knowledge was limited previously but through this project I have been given the opportunity to learn more and increase my confidence in using the internet and sending emails. This has proved extremely helpful when keeping in touch with friends and family in the UK and West Indies.”

Closed-loop recycling is beneficial because the customer can buy its waste back in a more useful form, at a reduced cost than the procurement of the same items if they are manufactured from raw materials from scratch. Because of this, cost savings can be discovered in other areas of the business too, where products manufactured from raw materials would be purchased instead.

While the majority of organisations in the UK are switched on to recycling in some capacity, there is generally room for improvement. As a minimum most organisations now sort their waste paper for recycling. However, recycling is one area in which most organisations can improve through the introduction of further waste streams. Despite this, these organisations are often put off by the resources needed to manage the increased commitment the recycling of further waste streams demands. However, by seeking the help of an expert company a tailored solution with efficiencies and cost-saving measures can be developed.

A full site audit will take into account the core business function, and what is important to the customer. Here security and data protection are key issues and it is important to ensure all paper and electronic waste is treated as highly confidential, whether it is shredded onsite in a mobile shredding unit, or offsite at the depot. A partner which can provide site visits to its depot, ensure full compliance and provide all the supporting paperwork, as well as taking an active role in the education and buy-in of a customer’s staff will be able to deliver a thoroughly integrated service.

While recycling is the first step towards adopting an environmentally aware approach to operations, closed-loop recycling doubles the perceived value by additionally reducing new product manufacturing demands on raw materials, fuel and therefore the products’ embodied carbon emissions too.

Audited recycling
Business moving specialist Robinsons, has launched Di-vert, a fully-audited office furniture waste recycling service designed to minimise the environmental impact of organisations moving premises, while unlocking hidden value within businesses. Unwanted office furniture either reused or recycled, ensuring none of the waste ends up in landfill. Di-vert ensures furniture is reconditioned, reused or recycled for use back into the manufacturing process. Alternatively, pulped materials are used in a variety ways such as animal bedding. Robinsons provides companies with a full audit trail which guarantees that the whole process of getting rid of waste products is entirely transparent. It is this accountability that is becoming increasingly important for businesses as investors, clients and staff become more discerning with regards to a company’s green credentials, and complying with CSR policies becomes common business practice.

Waste package
Incentive Support Services Ltd, sister company to Incentive FM is handling a total waste management for Lend Lease Asset and Property Management at its European HQ in Hanover Square London. So far monthly savings achieved include 4,500 kW of energy, and 33,000 litres of water with a reduction in CO2 emissions by 750 kilos. Incentive’s approach to waste management is to view it as a total package, rather than simply removing waste at the lowest cost regardless of environmental impact. Monthly reports are supplied to the client highlighting weights and types of waste removed and detailed analysis of the benefits. Typically waste is collected and taken to a facility that transforms rubbish into power saving more than 5cu m of landfill per ton of waste each month. In fact within 13 months 85cu m of landfill were saved creating 9.5MWh of electricity 85 per cent of which is exported to the national grid Incentive also introduced ‘flow’ cleaning teams where the cleaners work in a group completing one floor at a time, rather than cleaners having ‘sections’ and working on separate floors, saving on lighting ‘Eco’ cleaning products were introduced too.

● Anthony Pearlgood is Commercial Director of PHS Datashred

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