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Bins not for rubbish

Author : Tim Fryer

29 June 2012

Enviro bIns mini tops

If you are looking to improve your environmental credentials then improving your waste recycling performance is an obvious starting point, but how many FMs would start with recycling their old bins to start with? It can be done, as Tim Fryer found out.

The role of the humble rubbish bin has been taking greater significance in recent years. Rather than just be a receptacle for people to put rubbish into, it can now be used to encourage people to be conscientious about waste disposal - particularly with regard to recycling – and can even be used by the facility manager to make a statement about sustainability credentials of the organisation.

These are some of the issues I was introduced to some of the issues by Leafield Engineering, formerly Linpac Environmental, during a visit to its factory in Wiltshire. In fact, as transport of goods adds to environmental footprint combined with the flag-waving fervour created by the Jubilee and Olympics this year, there already are good reasons for being interested in a British manufacturer.

The process they use to make their products is called rotational moulding, which is a cheaper process than injection moulding. The main consequence of this is that it means much lower volume products can be developed. A recent example of this was at Greenwich University who was looking to improve its recycling performance. This stood at 50% (or waste recycled) in 2010 and it originally planned to reach 75% by 2014. However, as the University’s Sustainability Manager John Bailey explained, more may be possible: “Essentially we were initially looking for around 250 bins and received quotes from a large range of organisations all with different products but none that we felt actually met the needs of the University. Justin Salmond from Leafield suggested that they could design a bin with us that was tailored exactly to our needs.”

“The new bins will actively play a part in encouraging people to recycle more at the University through the design of the bin itself. The bin is made so that it is easier to recycle than it is to throw stuff in the non-recycling section of the bin which will create a default action among the staff, students and visitors to choose the recycling side more often.

“Spot checks and audits of our waste show that we should be able recycle nearly 90% of the every-day office waste produced and we are hoping these bins are going to be steering us closer to achieving that figure. Of course the more we recycle the better for the bank balance as well, recycling cost an awful lot less to get rid of as our waste contractors make money from sorting the waste out and baling it up for reuse.”

The bins had a number of design considerations. They needed to fit in corridors and tight spaces, they needed to make it more desirable to recycle and the proportions reflect the 75% recycling target. Also, as part of a World Heritage Site, the University does not put posters on walls so the bins needed to have changeable sign attached to them. The success of the resulting unit has lead to its introduction as a standard product line, the Meridian Envirobin.

Plastic, as I found out, is not a standard commodity. While most plastic can be recycled, not all of it is directly reuseable to make bins, safety bollards, animal feeders and other products in the Leafield range that require a certain degree of quality and conformity to be used effectively in the rotational moulding process. However, where the source of the plastic is known the options for direct recycling can be very attractive. Phil Maddox. Managing Director of Leafield, commented: “We try to use as much recycled plastic as possible but it is not always possible to know where it comes from, so about 25% of our plastic is directly recycled.”

The option of recycling does open up the interesting option referred to in the introduction. A company or organisation can send their old bins to Leafield and get them recycled into new products. Maddox explained: “This can be 20% cheaper than ‘virgin’ bins, but people doing this tend to be more interested in the message.”

One such example was the NEC in Birmingham. It sent 400 old bins to Leafield and got 400 ‘Arena Envirobins’ back – like Greenwich University this was a bespoke product developed in tandem with the NEC. Arena Envirobins are placed in pairs; one to collect all recyclable items such as plastic bottles, paper, coffee cups and glass, and one bin for general waste. Colour-coded lids differentiate between the two streams and signage is used to further emphasise the difference. The sorting of waste at source is particularly important for the NEC as it has invested £330,000 in its own on-site recycling plant.

A variation on recycled bins is using different coloured plastic chips and moulding them together to get what the company call the ‘Smart E-bin’. For other products the plastic chips are usually further ground down to a powder before remoulding, but for the Smart E-bin they are left as coloured chips to give the Smartie effect.. These bins are great fun not just for schools and nurseries but also give an obvious recycling message in any environment.

Maddox concluded: “For companies looking to advertise their green credentials they can now start with what you collect the rubbish in!”

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