How can property owners and facilities managers in commercial and office buildings improve their recycling systems. This is the topic of  an article I wrote which was  published in the Oct/Nov 2017 issue of Earthworx, the Green Building Council magazine:


THE consumer society we live in generates waste on a massive scale. However, this ‘take-make-waste’ approach to the design, management and disposal of materials is steadily being replaced by concepts such as systems-thinking and the circular economy.

These add to the increasing demands to manage material resources responsibly through production, use and re-use so that their ecological, economic and social value can be optimised.

As Tegan Cathrall, sustainability manager at GrowthPoint Properties puts it: “Waste is most likely to become the world’s next big issue. There has been a huge shortfall in terms of infrastructure to provide the systems and processes needed to increase waste management in our country.”

The Green Building Council’s Green Star rating tools recognize recycling and allocate credits in various categories.  These include new building projects which offer a credit through design of spaces for collecting recycling waste. Green Star Interiors is more comprehensive and requires a waste management plan during construction and for operation of the fit-out.

The Green Star Existing Building Performance Tool offers credits for a procedure which involves a baseline audit of waste, and includes diversion of all operational waste from landfill. The Green Star system incentivizes design and management for re-use and recycling of materials as all credits gained in this way help achieve grading ratings.

Influencing a complex system

Sustainably managing different waste materials going through occupied commercial and multi-use properties is not simple. The role-players include property owners and developers, architects, building and facilities managers, occupiers and tenants, cleaning and recycling contractors.

As one of the largest retail and mixed-use property owners, Growthpoint Properties uses their influence to encourage greater recycling amongst tenants. As Cathrall says: ”What has worked well for us is being able to engage with the tenant and emphasise the importance of recycling. We try to get them to sort at source so that when it comes to recycling, our waste contractor has a simpler and more efficient process. In certain extreme cases, we have liaised with tenants and proposed penalties for not complying with waste sorting for recycling purposes.”

Growthpoint’s property management team encourages tenants to install bins on their premises for separating recyclable waste. Their cleaning contractors ensure recyclables are not mixed with other waste, and are taken to a main waste area for the recycling contractor to sort further on-site or at an off-site facility.  Contaminated recyclable materials – especially paper – reduces their value and re-use, which reinforces the purpose of separating at source.

As for areas of improvement, Cathrall says: “We find that partnerships and communication between facilities team and the waste contractor produces innovative results. However, the biggest shift needed is behavioural change amongst occupiers.  If we can instill in them the system’s benefits and practices,  recycling numbers are sure to improve.”

Measurement and reporting are essential for efficient waste management. Growthpoint currently collects figures on waste collected, landfilled and recycled monthly to help plan for improvements. Buildings are also benchmarked against each other based on weights to landfill.  Through such measures, Growthpoint has diverted an estimated 5 000 tons of waste from landfill and into the recycling industry over the past 12 months.

Integrating different needs at the V&A

The V&A Waterfront is an extensive mixed-use precinct which attracts thousands of tourists and Cape Town residents day and night. Overseeing waste management is Operations Manager Petro Myburgh. “Our environmental policy has waste management and recycling guidelines for tenants and occupiers.  However, we have a large mix of tenants, so integrating their different needs into a system that generates most recyclables is our challenge.”

Restaurants and eateries are given colour-coded bins for organic food waste which, through a fly-farming process off-site, is turned into animal protein feed.  Glass and cardboard is gathered separately while plastic, paper, tins and other general waste is collected by the waste contractor for sorting at their facility.

To encourage participation amongst tenants, there is a no charge for collection of bins filled with recyclables. Some tenants have reduced their monthly refuse bills by at least half this way. In offices, boxes for paper are made available at low cost from the waste contractor and sited mostly at printing stations.

Eating at desks is discouraged to help reduce contamination. Education and information for separation at source is a focus while new tenants are given special emphasis and must submit waste and recycling management plans.

In all, the V&A generates some 500 tons per month of materials, of which 40-45% is recycled. Motivating tenants to participate in recycling continues to be a challenge. Myburgh sums up their approach: “We create spaces and systems that encourage the appropriate behaviour.”

Andrew Mason, projects director at leading facilities management outsourcing group Tsebo Solutions sees the partnership  of building and facilities managers with occupiers as essential: “The role of the occupier and their buy-in to the whole process cannot be underestimated. Management needs to provide leadership by ensuring sufficient budget is set aside for proper infrastructure and by appointing   an accredited, competent waste contractor who is transparent about the waste management process and provides all the requisite reporting and disposal certification.”

Sanlam, one of the largest financial services groups in South Africa, houses some 5 000 employees in their Bellville headquarters which combines five floors of office space with kitchenettes, cafeterias, restaurants and shops. The company’s sustainability policy has set a zero waste-to-landfill target which drives diversion and recycling activities across the company campus.

To help meet the stringent year-on-year target, the facilities management team, waste company and cleaning contractors work closely together.  Food waste organics from the cafeterias and kitchenettes are kept separate and taken for composting.

Bins for office consumables and e-waste as well as for paper are located at printing stations and along corridors. An efficient sorting area in the basement enables general plastics and paper to be further sorted for recovery and recycling.   Education for staff includes posters, intranet e-learning, email reminders and other media to encourage separation at source, and give feedback on progress.

Education for at-source separation

“Getting to zero waste is a tough journey,” says Wynand van Rensburg, head of the facilities management team at Sanlam. “Most waste recovery systems are running well, and we have a focus on minimizing contamination of white paper which has a high value.  Continuous education and incentives for at-source separation help with making recycling routine behaviour for staff. “

The South African recycling economy provides income for some 84 000 people, the majority in the informal and SME sector where the need is greatest. On average, recycling rates for most materials are still generally low at just 9.8% (DEA, 2012) with much of it coming from industry or scavenged from landfill.

As for recycling by households, CSIR research shows that the percentage of households of a broadly representative sample in large urban areas who regularly recycle paper and packaging waste has risen from 4 percent in 2010 to 7.2 percent in 2015.

Where municipalities such as Cape Town provide free, regular door-to-door recycling collection services to households, participation increases to well over 50 percent especially when communication initiatives are in place to support the service, according to officials. More than 120 000 households are serviced this way.

For many facilities and waste managers with technical backgrounds, enabling the necessary integration amongst the different role-players for an efficient recycling system may not always be easy.   Then there are the social psychology and communication skills needed for fostering behaviour change amongst tenants and occupiers.

But where these can be put to work, the environmental and socio-economic benefits are wide-ranging, especially since seven more jobs can be created from recycling rather than landfilling waste. It’s well worth the effort for all stakeholders  to close the materials loop.


Tsebo Solutions: Facilities management. Andrew Mason.  011 577 8772

V&A Waterfront: Petro Myburgh.  021 408 7500

Growthpoint Properties: Tegan Cathrall.  .  011 944 6118

Averda: Waste and recycling contractors. 0861 283 732

Don’t Waste Services: On-site recycling contractors. 0861 09273

SANLAM/CWExcellerate: Facilities management.

GreenEdge: Communications for behaviour change. Hugh Tyrrell.  083 253 4100

Postwink: Recycling bins/containers.  Berenice Westmore. . 021 447 8783

Paper Recycling Association of SA. Ursula Hennebury.  011 803 5063