Commercial sector waste diversion strategies

All eyes on Ontario as comprehensive recycling certification program builds momentum
Friday, November 28, 2014
By Michelle Ervin

Half a can of pop is all it takes. That hundred-odd millilitres of syrupy soda is enough to contaminate an entire paper recycling stream.

A lot of people don’t realize this, says Meirav Even-Har, program manager, Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO), speaking during a recent Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Toronto webinar on waste diversion in the commercial sector. The webinar highlighted the RCO’s 3RCertified Waste Diversion Certification Program, which is building momentum in Ontario.

Re-launched in 2013, the updated points-based certification program recognizes buildings in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors. At the time, only four buildings had achieved either bronze, silver, gold or platinum level status for their waste diversion programs. Since then, another 12 buildings have earned accreditation, with a handful of others due for on-site inspections before year’s end.

The certification program is one way of benchmarking a building’s waste diversion program and identifying where opportunities for improvement exist.

The business case

Bala Gnanam, director of sustainability and building technologies, BOMA Toronto, says waste is often an afterthought to energy and water use in the green building scheme. But it ought not to be, for both economic and social reasons.

Using an incinerator or a landfill comes with environmental consequences, including the emission of pollutants into the air and leeching of contaminants into water. It also comes with real business costs, he says. Those costs include the environmental assessment required to evaluate the suitability of the site for a landfill use before the purchase, the actual purchase of the site for landfill use, the ongoing cost of managing and operating the landfill, and finally the ongoing cost of managing that site after it has been retired. All of these cost taxpayers several millions annually.

BOMA BESt (building environmental standards) certification, which recognizes best practices in day-to-day building management and performance, underscores the importance of waste reduction and diversion as one of its six areas of assessment. In essence, 3RCertified has taken that one area of assessment and built an entire program around it — Canada’s first of its kind.

The certification process

The program, says Even-Har, is designed to not only recognize leadership in waste reduction and diversion, but also to promote continuous learning. To that end, sites are evaluated every year.

“We’re not only making sure that participants utilize the online system as best they can and get the most for their money,” she says, “but it’s also an opportunity for us to engage the same team that worked on certification initially and make sure that nothing is lost between certification and re-certification.

Good for three years, certification begins with online registration, is followed by a series of surveys, and is awarded after an on-site evaluation.

The surveys include a site profile, which provides its basic information and an overview of its waste management program. The main assessment contains more than 60 mostly yes or no questions, based on environmental management systems thinking. The last survey is a profile of all waste streams, which asks for qualitative and quantitative information and follows each stream’s supply chain from start to finish.

All data must be derived from a waste audit conducted in accordance with RCO’s standard method within the 12 months prior.

Performance is scored on criteria including capture rate and diversion rate. Points are added up for a percentage score; 60 per cent is the minimum required for certification.

The case study

The 30-storey, Telus-anchored building at 25 York St. recently achieved gold level 3R certification. Taryn Kelly, assistant property manager, Menkes, says the process was a crash course in the building’s waste program.

“It’s not just about ticking off a couple of things and slapping together a quick awards submission,” she says. “It’s a plan that we’ve put in place now and measures we’ve put in place to continuously monitor and improve from here.”

The waste audit prompted the reorganization of the building’s garbage and recycling room as well as a strategy for addressing one of the building’s major sources of contamination: single-use Starbucks cups on the ground floor.

The building’s program includes desk-side blue boxes with black side saddles for waste and separate recycling bins in common areas, including for paper; plastics, bottles and cans; garbage; and organics in kitchenettes. The program also includes recycling for batteries, toner cartridges, e-waste, light bulbs, Styrofoam, hand towels, grease, wooden skids and construction materials.

Menkes communicates the program to its tenants through posters spelling out what types of waste go where. Building management also coordinates one-on-ones and mini-audits with tenants, as requested.

“You can do a waste audit and see what your results are looking like and then tell people that they need to improve,” says Kelly, “but in order to improve, you have to supply them with the tools they also need to improve as far as you can go.”

The process has been a team effort of the building’s management staff, tenants, cleaning staff and waste hauler. What’s more, the program has been linked back to corporate procurement policies as well as environmental and energy mission statements.

Incorporating waste diversion programs into an organization’s overall business plan is a critical — but often missed — link to make, says Gnanam.

“You have a common vision, and then you also have a greater buy-in from senior management, which means there’s a high chance of its being very successful,” he says.

Meantime, as the 3RCertified program builds momentum, it is drawing attention outside of Ontario’s borders.

“Many jurisdictions, including in the U.S., are keeping a close eye on this to see how successful it is,” says Gnanam, “because no other jurisdictions have a program as comprehensive as this one from RCO.”

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.