Recycling – the next step.

One of the things that I think that we have in common with many companies is that we had a big cupboard (or in our case an area on top of the locker room) which we used to store our waste electrical items.  The WEEE  (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive states that all waste electrical product made after a certain time should be taken back by the manufacturer – I think that most of our stuff was too old for that and as most of it is bought through our IT department it is probably difficult to find the original producer, much less make them take it back – it would just end up in a cupboard at a different site!

A recent visit to a centre that takes in WEEE waste provided sufficient momentum to get the process started – at least for our site although heaven only knows how much there is to sort out at the rest of the other sites.  All in all the process is quite simple.  They sent us a list of hazardous waste which we would have to pay an additional charge for as well as a charge for a consignment note.  Once the order was raised we had a pallet box on site for a week and then it was collected – as it was not far away we went to watch it being disposed of and had a great tour round the site.  I even took some pictures to prove to our IT department that they would not be usable afterwards.

The bits of equipment are bashed to smaller bits by huge whirling chains, then the ferrous metals are pulled out by magnets and other metals separated from the plastics.  The separate components are then bagged up and sold.  In addition the company operates in conjunction with some retailers to operate a scheme whereby products that are rejected (if, for example they have a scratch) are tested and sold at a cheaper price.  Certain products sent from the council recycling centre are also sold on to vetted buyers.

My colleague was a little concerned about the huge amount of stuff that is unthinkingly thrown away, something that worries me constantly.  However, in this case, the alternative is that they continue to sit up on top of lockers and under shelves etc (although I believe the WEEE directive states that they should be disposed of within 12 months).  At least now the plastic has been separated and will be recycled, as will the metals and the bits that make up the circuit boards.  However, it does raise the question as to how do we make more use of our electrical products and stop just throwing them away because a newer, faster model has just been released on the market.

First Steps

Just like everyone else I have a long list of things to do / organise / put in place which really do not take much effort or time at all.  One of these things is to increase the recycling that we do at work.  I have now taken the first step and we have installed a textile bin on site to collect old textiles on behalf of the firefighters charity.  The main idea behind having the recycling bin is to give us somewhere to put old uniforms and gloves, but it is also obviously available for people to bring their old clothes etc in from home.

As well as reducing the waste going to landfill, we will be donating to a worthwhile charity and raising awareness of the amount of things that can be recycled rather than wasted.  In many ways however, this is more a case of reusing rather than recycling.  Any useful items of clothing are sent to poorer nations in Africa, and any textiles that are beyond use are reused as industrial rags etc.  It was really easy to set up and the next step is to put these bins on the rest of our UK sites.

In a separate project, a colleague of mine has found a way to recycle (or upcycle as it is more correctly known) crisp packets – which is a pretty good idea considering that an average of 5 or 6 packets are eaten per day in the office (and there are only 8 people in the office!)  They are now collected up and sent to a PO Box for the Philippine Community Fund.  They are shipped on a boat that is already going to the Philippines and there they are made into bags and purses – about thirty crisp packets making a bag (or one per week for the office).  This is intended to reduce child labour in the Philippines as it means that the children of these ladies can then go to school.

Recycling at work.

Our Green Team started off with a brainstorming activity to identify areas where we thought improvements could be made.  From this we decided that the most obvious area to look at first was recycling as there were no facilities at the moment (apart from a skip for cardboard and recycling of cling wrap) with all other waste being sent to landfill.  It also seemed one of the easiest to tackle as recycling has been a high priority for a number of years in Daventry, with the council providing excellent facilities and being the first in the country to meet government targets for household recycling.  Unfortunately, they do not seem at all interested in helping businesses in the area to recycle.

How have we done so far?

Two of the team spent a lot of time trying to find someone to take away our recycling.  Some were not very helpful, a couple were more interested in the confidential shredded waste which is controlled from head office and therefore we had no authority to change, and some were just too expensive.

We have provided bins for the collection of bottles, cans and plastic which are then put in a particular skip provided by local Company, Cawleys and, at the same time changed our supplier of the cardboard skip to Cawleys, which saved enough money to provide the recycling facilities.   Although there were some complaints initially that, heaven forbid, people are being asked to wash out their containers, and empty an extra couple of bins, it has in the main been well received.

We have also removed a larger skip from site which was originally rented in order to get rid of some particular waste some years ago and which now seemed to have a few broken pallets and bits of metal put in.  The pallets are being taken away for free by a local company (we may be able to find someone to pay for them at some point, but this is not a priority) and we have had the skip removed which, at a conservative estimate has saved us £1500 a year.

In addition to this, we have found a local company that will take away some perspex chips that we use as part of our business (saving about 5kg of plastic going to landfill every month) and other sundry items that they sell on to schools and playgroups for craft purposes.  The envelopes that were thrown away with the perspex are reused up to four times eah and we have even had other sites bring their perspex to us so we can send it for reuse.  Although this last part makes only a small difference, I think it has raised awareness at other sites of what we are trying to do.

In addition to this, the search for someone to recycle has allowed us to get a cheaper quote for the rest of the general waste that will save us a further £750 per year.

So, what more can we do.  I think we need to look at providing more facilities for general paper and newspapers, as well as for some of the less obvious things such as batteries.  I am also planning to invest in a cardboard baler which will bring down the collection price of the cardboard and then look to try and sell or get a better price for some items such as wooden pallets and cling wrap (although the price of recycled materials has dropped dramatically in recent months following the collapse of the oil price).  We also have intermittent pallets of waste that can be recycled, so my next task is to find a way to advertise some of these internally and see if they are needed at any other site.

Has anyone out there had any successes or failures recycling at work?