Managing a retail centres waste

What is the single most important moment in a shopping centres life? There are memorable moments when the centre is fully let, when it trades successfully, its first anniversary and awards. But for those with retail in their blood, it is the night before the opening.

The heady mix of anticipation, uncertainty if the crowds will come, questions, whether we are ready and have promoted enough mixed with mental and physical exhaustion, are unforgettable. And exhilarating.

At every step of the shopping centres life, there is a need to remove the waste. The first step starts before construction with the planning. Modern centres generate many types of waste apart from the usual general waste. Fat traps have to be cleaned and the fat removed. Food waste has to be collected, secured against theft and recycled. The packaging has to be security cleared and removed.

From fat traps and food waste to packaging, retail waste management is key to sustainability

The architect will know the regulations regarding design but needs assistance with the practical planning of the sizing of the waste areas, transporting of wheelie bins and containers, and storage of waste. If the centre is to remove waste efficiently the equipment: balers and pressure hoses must be provided for and the workflow must be easy. Many of the larger centres need 24/7 waste removal which necessitates staff restrooms and canteens.

Once construction starts the builders’ rubble has to be sorted and removed. Clean rubble can be reused, contaminated rubble will be landfilled. This requires on-site sorting — contractors are notoriously bad at separating waste. If the site wishes to obtain a Green Star rating then the recycling requirements are stricter. A percentage of the waste must be recycled which means keeping it cleaner. And certifiable records of the waste streams must be produced as part of the accreditation process.

The fit-out period is characterized by huge volumes of waste. Extra containers and skips are usually required to remove the contractors waste as well as the packaging from the equipment and later the merchandise. This is when the chaos to keep to the program starts and a lot of rules are ignored. Meanwhile, the excitement starts to build.

Many tenants have specialized waste management needs. The anchor tenants often have their own dedicated waste areas and employ their own waste management service providers. Each of these operates according to the tenant’s systems and requirements as to recycling, removal and recording of waste. Most have their own wheelie bins, compactors and cleaning equipment.

Finding the waste management balance, from anchor tenants to mom & pop shops is crucial in retail

The smaller tenants will use the centres waste facilities. Again, there are different systems. Usually, but not always, a cleaning service will collect waste from the tenant and transport it to the centres waste area. Separate recording of each tenants waste is becoming important with tagging systems being used to quantify the volume of a tenants waste for costing purposes. At some stage, we will likely introduce the overseas practice of paying for all waste generated.

Once it has arrived at the waste area it becomes our problem. What we receive is mixed waste — everything from nappies to electronic waste, broken glass and food all mixed up with paper, cardboard and plastic. The waste stream must be sorted into that which can be reused and recycled, hazardous waste and the rest. If we do our job properly and depending on the type of centre we can remove 50% plus of the waste stream. This reduces the amount of waste going to landfills as well as reducing the cost of waste removal.

In South Africa, sorting is invariably done manually. We have a desperate need to create jobs and the sorting process is ideal for people with limited skills and education. Women are particularly good at sorting because of their dexterity. Sophisticated machinery is always imported, is expensive and requires very large volumes on a continuous basis which does not work in a centre environment.

Once the general waste has been removed we compact it using a compactor or manually to reduce the volume. The cost of waste removal is mainly in the transport costs. We use different types and sizes of containers to minimize this. Starting with the standard 240-litre wheelie bin we progress to six and 12 cubic metre skips, containers and finally 23 cubic metre compactors.

Smart Waste thrives on retail waste management, from the environmental impact to job creation

The recycling materials, typically paper, plastics, cardboard, metal (tins), polystyrene, tetra pak and glass are separated into separate containers. These vary depending on volume and weight and whether the storage is undercover or subject to the elements. From there they are collected and taken to a recycler where they are reprocessed into various non-virgin materials.

In order to keep the recyclable materials as clean as possible – think of coffee spills on paper – we try to implement systems at the source. If the recyclable material can be separated by the generator there is less contamination, limited double handing and less time required to sort. Plus, the recyclable material is in a better condition which should achieve a higher price.

Recycling is not the only requirement of a waste management company. We also take responsibility for the various specialist sub-contractors. Fat trap cleaning which requires specialist equipment is one case. Hazardous waste includes the recycling of fluorescent tubes, ink cartridges and nowadays health waste including masks and gloves. Sometimes we have to deal with e-waste and some medical waste such as discarded needles.

A large and increasingly important part of waste management is reporting. This is to manage cost and latterly from the need to abide by sustainability goals which require us all to minimize pollution and create a clean environment. Reporting can be a simple spreadsheet or a sophisticated system involving supporting documentation to track and verify the movement of waste. This is all waste, general, recyclable and hazardous so different systems need to be in place for each to ensure an auditable trail.

Smart Waste offers a dashboard for reporting to select clients

Most importantly for the client, we provide a single point of contact for all the disciplines. We provide a single invoice and pay all the bills. This includes accounting and paying over a rebate for the recyclables which have been sold.

Smart Waste also offers training on systems and waste management to clients and tenants. Depending on the level of the audience we can offer a visual presentation to a boardroom and a practical show and tell to the staff. This can be conducted in the major languages.

Increasingly we are being called upon to assist clients with implementing the principles of the circular economy. This involves the use of bio-degradable packaging, finding ways of reusing materials and closing the loop wherever possible.

The benefit for the retailer of using Smart Waste is a cost reduction as well as the security of having independent certification of their waste stream. For Smart Waste there is the added benefit of doing some good, of trying to arrest the damage continuously being done to the environment through our waste.

Dealing with the waste which a retail centre produces is not for everyone. Smart Waste thrives on it – retailing is in our blood.

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