Zero waste is commercial property sector’s next big challenge

Zero waste is commercial property sector’s next big challenge

Total Property - Issue 5 2017

The “zero waste” movement is on the rise, but is it one New Zealand’s commercial property sector can get on board?

New Zealand is perceived as clean and green by the rest of the world, but it still has significant waste problems. A 2015 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development criticised New Zealand’s waste record, citing an over-reliance on landfill and low recycling rates, while environmental groups claim that three quarters of waste sent to landfill is recoverable.

The 3.3 million tonnes of waste New Zealand produces each year affects not just the environment but the country’s economy, with the cost of waste to landfill set to rise dramatically. Pricing models suggest that the Waste Disposal Levy, which is a national charge paid by councils depending on the weight of waste sent to landfill, could increase from around $260,000 a year to $1.8 million a year within the space of a decade.

The commercial property sector can have a significant impact on waste levels, from the construction phase of a commercial development to the waste disposal and waste management facilities a building offers.

Sustainability policies are becoming more prevalent among New Zealand businesses and most office occupiers believe that a building’s Green Star rating would be an important factor when making their next move.

Although the business case for Green Star-rated buildings and energy-measuring mechanisms such as NABERSNZ has successfully been made, and New Zealand developers and listed property vehicles are enjoying their benefits, the uptake of waste solutions has been historically slow among commercial tenants – with waste generally out of site and out of mind.

Property developers and construction firms are now asking themselves if zero waste buildings have any extra pulling power on investors and tenants.

Is it possible for an office building, mixed-use facility or worksite to avoid sending any waste to the incinerator or into a landfill? And does reducing, reusing and recycling material increase efficiency across a building’s entire life cycle, from design and construction through to office management and operations?

Most international companies have policies on their carbon footprint and recycling can be a good way of showing they are being responsible corporates.

However, many are quite reserved about showing people what they do with their waste, often because of the volumes going to landfill.

A starting point is defining zero waste. Most corporate zero waste commitments are defined as commitments to bring down the amount of waste sent to landfill, with companies setting a diversion target and focussing on recycling and recovery.

Recycling and resale can influence the bottom line for a building - zero waste policies can produce returns in the recycling commodities market that could offset the expense of making infrastructure changes that improve recycling.

Auckland Council waste planning manager Parul Sood says property developers and building managers have a significant role to play in efforts to reduce waste volumes.

“Property developers are vital because they design the infrastructure that can make it easier for tenants to minimise or recycle waste,” Ms Sood says.

“This can include things like allocating accessible and adequate areas in the building for waste to be separated by residents for recycling, and adequate space for the material to be stored until it’s time for a collector to pick it up.

“Building managers also play an important role, ensuring that the drop-off areas for waste and recycling function well and tenants are regularly communicated with regarding the correct ways of disposing of their waste and recycling.”

Dr Jeff Seadon, senior lecturer in the built environment engineering department at Auckland University of Technology, agrees.

“The positioning of waste collection systems is too often only thought about once the building is almost complete. Areas set aside for waste and recycling collection need to be clearly set out in the building plans so that they are easily accessible by the building users and waste companies,” he says.

Dr Seaton argues that specifying waste management plans in build contracts and auditing the results can bring down waste volumes during the construction phase of a development. With building and construction waste representing about 15 percent of the cost of materials, and building costs ever-increasing, this makes financial sense.

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