There is an ever growing consensus for companies to take charge of their waste. Factors such as costs, legislation and CSR requirements are leading to a mounting pressure on organisations and ultimately, facility managers to do more. A decision to remove personal desk bins to only use centralised bins is not always an easy one, particularly if the pros and cons aren’t abundantly clear. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make that decision a little bit easier.
To start with let’s look at why this is important. Well, undoubtedly it’s a big win for the environment. The reduction in bins and therefore plastic bags can make a huge difference. Plastic bags are as most of us know by now (having been charged 5p in the local supermarket), a serious problem facing the environment. A single plastic bag could take anywhere from 400 to a 1000 years to break down, not to mention the non-renewable resources used to create them. Although plastic bags can be recycled, it is not widely accepted due to cost and usually ends up in a landfill or incinerator; neither are great for the environment.
As well as the reduction of bin bags, recycling rates will see a sharp increase. Personal desk bins will almost always be used for general waste so by replacing these with centralised bins, an increase in recycling of about 30% can usually be expected, according to some recent studies; What a Waste and Ban the Bin. This is a real step towards making a dent in the UK’s own statistics with around half of UK rubbish currently being disposed of via landfill.
So we know centralised bins are great for the environment, but what impact will this have on your business? First and foremost we need to discuss the financial implications. These can vary greatly depending on what changes are made to the building’s waste process e.g. the level of segregation and therefore number of recycling bins required. Let’s take a company in an average 4 storey office with 400 people. Like many offices there are already centralised general and recycling bins spread around each floor but, staff also have individual desk bins. Currently they have five 1100 litre bins with three general waste at £12 per lift and two mixed recycling at £7.50 per lift. As all five bins are being collected 5 times a week that’s £9,360 and £3,900 annually for general and mixed recycling respectively. As we can expect around a 30% increase in recycling, a switch up to three mixed recycling and down to just two general 1100 litre bins can be anticipated, making an annual saving of £1,170 in collection costs.
With the reduction of waste capacity through individual desk bins, extra centralised bins will usually need to be purchased. Let’s estimate that our company needs an extra 144 litre general and 144 litre recycling bin on each floor, including the ground and mezzanine areas. At the typical rental cost that would work out at around £661 a year which reduces the annual saving to only £509. However, since they have disposed of 400 individual bins there’s an indirect savings to be had in the cleaning contract. It currently takes one cleaner 2.5 hours every night to empty all the bins and change the bags. At the new London living wage of £9.15 an hour that’s an annual saving of £4,630 in labour costs. On top of this, at around £10 per 1000 bags there’s another £1,012 to be saved if every bin was emptied daily. If we add up all the costs from the example given, a total annual saving of £6,151 could be expected, providing cost savings from the cleaning contract are passed onto the company.
It is important to note that there are many different variables that can affect financial benefits. For example, if a company decided to increase the number of waste streams to more than just ‘general’ and ‘mixed recycling’, the rental and handling costs of dealing with the extra bins would normally negate any savings made from the increased recycling rate. Similarly, if there were no centralised bins in the first place the rental or purchase cost of these would minimise savings. Another variable which is often overlooked is the reduction in pests and the associated costs with pest control services. This obviously brings more than just financial benefits and particularly in the summer months, odours from personal bins can be a real problem so by removing them completely you can improve the general cleanliness of the building.
Legislation is also a factor that needs to be considered. As of the 1st January this year UK waste regulations require businesses to separate recyclable material (paper, plastic, metal and glass) from other waste. Don’t panic if you aren’t yet; this is only a requirement in circumstances where the collection is both ‘necessary and practicable’. Nevertheless, EU law is continuing to tighten the slack on waste disposal with the Landfill Tax Directive being a prime example. The tax, which is continuing to rise, works by levying non-domestic waste going to landfill at the point of disposal. Over recent years the cost of alternative waste solutions have been reflecting this rise thereby encouraging businesses to reduce their waste, not just re-direct it.
So the decision to go desk bin free has been made, but how do you implement it effectively? Firstly, and probably most importantly, it needs buy-in at every level of the organisation. If a director decides to stamp his or her feet because their office isn’t near a central bin, tough! This has to be a company-wide transition or there will be resistance. Once this has been achieved, trial it. Trialling the move on one floor is a great way to see if waste facilities are suffice and more importantly, how staff react. Personal bins may seem convenient to them but how often do staff get up from their desk throughout the day? Would it be that hard to walk past a bin on the way to the toilet or to grab a drink? Irrespective of the answer, there are some added health benefits to be had from getting up, such as increased circulation. Following a trial, listen to the feedback and make the appropriate changes so it’s brainlessly easy for staff. Finally, communicate all the wonderful benefits that removing the bins will achieve; their participation really will make a difference.
The decision to remove personal desk bins is one that needs to be weighed up individually for each organisation. Improving your bottom line should only be looked at as an added bonus so be sure to reap the CSR rewards that a bold decision such as this one can provide. It’s also often a fantastic way to kick start an environmental awareness campaign, as it directly affects everyone in the building. Whatever the original driver is, hopefully the decision making process is now a little easier and so is putting forward the idea to senior management, as after all, it is the right thing to do. Well, we think it is anyway.
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