By Nancy Larson, Sustainable Options
Most commercial office buildings have a recycling initiative in place, but how is the success of these programs being measured? What are the benefits for property managers and what are some of the barriers to success in diverting office waste from landfills?
The inaugural Atlanta Property Managers Recycling Summit was held at Bank of America Plaza on October 21st to explore these questions. The event was hosted by Atlanta Recycles, with support from the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge, BOMA Georgia, USGBC Georgia-Atlanta Branch, Southface, Georgia Recycling Coalition, and the City of Atlanta. Panel discussions included both industry experts and area property representatives. Jay Bassett with US EPA, Gloria Hardegree, Executive Director of Georgia Recycling Coalition, Brenda Pulley, Senior VP of Recycling for Keep America Beautiful, and Stephanie Stuckey-Benfield, Director of the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Sustainability were featured speakers.
A survey conducted prior to the summit indicated that while over 70% of commercial office properties have a waste diversion program, only about 30% track the results. How much is really being recycled? Tracking recycling programs is becoming a greater focus for both sustainable building programs and municipalities. Just as buildings benchmark energy and water use, monitoring waste diversion rates measures the success of programs in place. This metric will be added to the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager in 2016, and leaders in waste diversion efforts will also be recognized by the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge next year.
One reason for the increased focus on tracking is that recycling helps to significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution driving climate change. Furthermore, the value of wasted packaging materials in the U.S. amounts to over $11.4 million. Our recycling industry has grown significantly, with over 470,000 jobs nationwide and more than $4.3 billion generated in state and local revenues annually. Communities are investing in recycling because of the job creation and economic benefits generated.
Georgia has the second largest infrastructure for “end use” of recovered materials in the U.S. with more than 120 manufacturers — a few of the largest include Novelis, Pratt, Caraustar, and WestRock. As the “carpet capital of the world,” Georgia’s mills use one-third of all PET bottles generated domestically. Why should we have to import recycled goods to support local industries?
Although most would agree that recycling is “the right thing to do,” barriers faced by property managers include less-than-optimal tenant participation and contamination of the commingled stream. Some of the solutions discussed were waste stream audits (to set a baseline and potential for improvement), deskside waste and recycling bins, instructional signage and ongoing education. One property management team even did some after-hours sleuthing to determine which tenants were not in compliance by having janitorial staff mark the clear bags used for the recycling stream! Recycling programs are typically cost-neutral or offer a savings to commercial properties. By effectively managing waste diversion programs, property managers will also benefit by supporting their tenants’ internal sustainability initiatives.
For more information, check out the Recycling@Work initiative.
America Recycles Day is Nov 15!
Nancy Larson, LEED AP O+M, is a project manager at Sustainable Options, LLC, an Atlanta-based green building consulting firm providing property owners upfront analysis and hands-on implementation of the Energy Star, LEED and Green Globes Green Building Rating Systems.
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