It’s no secret companies are keen to show they’re acting in a responsible manner to protect the environment. Recycling is part of most companies’ corporate and social responsibility ethos, and it makes for great PR.
However, there is also a compelling business case for recycling. Increasingly stringent legislation is forcing companies to recycle more and landfill costs are rocketing. In West London for example, the current charge for every tonne of commercial waste thrown into landfill is £190 and this could increase to £500 per tonne year within the next five years.
The key policies document issued by the new coalition government makes it clear that there will be no let-up in the focus on environmental issues.
Octink, the Brentford-based display specialist and finalist in the 2010 Exhibition News awards, generates on average 20-25 tonnes of waste each month. Until recently, this waste originated from factory production and signage/displays collected at the end of their use, on behalf of clients, from building sites, hoardings, events and exhibitions. Before Octink started its recycling scheme, all this waste was sent to landfill.
The company’s management team, led by chief executive Will Tyler, had been thinking for some time about alternative ways of dealing with waste, both to lessen the impact on the environment and to reduce costs.
So when the company was approached by Robert Horne, a supplier of paper, board and plastics with an offer to buy and help recycle Octink’s waste, the offer was immediately accepted and became the beginning of Octink’s new ‘Recycle-Recover-Re-use’ programme.
Putting the plan into action
The plan was implemented very quickly. “It took a couple of months of hard planning to prepare for recycling, but everything has gone smoothly since we started,” says operations director Brad Candy. “We installed 12 large waste cages at the premises to pre-sort waste into different types of material, which are then collected and taken away for recycling.” Additional compacting machines were bought in order to maximise the amount of waste that could be held in each cage, which reduced the number of collections and therefore costs.
On the first day the scheme was launched, installers returning to Octink’s premises with clients’ waste were greeted by Octink factory staff in Eco Warrior jackets. “Two years ago our staff were sceptical about introducing recycling. This was a fun way of drawing attention to what we were doing,” adds Candy.
“Attitudes have changed hugely since then. Being more aware of the environment and costs is ingrained in all of us. Now, our team in the factory even turn off the lights and computers when they go to lunch,” he adds.
However, while being green-minded in disposing of waste makes for plenty of goodwill and boosts a company’s PR, there is also a general assumption that this goodwill comes at a cost.
Candy says this is not the case. For Octink, the positive impact on costs was immediate. “In early 2008, Octink was paying around £3,000 a month (£120 per tonne) to send around 25 tonnes of waste to landfill. In May 2008, the first month of recycling, Octink recycled 56 per cent of its waste, saving almost £1,700.
It cost only about £6,000 to set up the scheme, which represented mainly the cost of additional wheelie bins and compacting machines.
Taking the scheme up a level
As the scheme progressed, Octink recycled on average at least 66 per cent of waste each month; at times reaching as high as 75 per cent.
“There’s a misconception that being green has to cost money,” says chief executive of Octink, Will Tyler. “Admittedly, some recyclable materials used in signage are more expensive, but the savings in landfill costs more than compensate for this.”
The trick, says Tyler, is planning ahead. “At an early stage, we encourage our customers to consider using recyclable signage materials. We also identify like-minded contractors who will help us find new recycling solutions. We want to show our customers that, with a little planning, recycling the massive amounts of waste generated by events can be easy, affordable and even profitable.”
Octink is now taking its recycling policy a stage further by working with suppliers to help further its recycling policies, actively seeking clients willing to use display materials that can be recycled.
Recyclable materials may be slightly more expensive, Octink estimates around 10 per cent higher, but this cost is more than offset by the savings in landfill costs. The future
There is a limit to the level of waste that companies can recycle each month. Certain materials that cannot be recycled, such as PVC banner material. Changes in legislation, constantly affect what can be recycled. For example, timber that has been painted can no longer be recycled.
So companies are finding more creative ways to re-use materials that either cannot be recycled or where it is uneconomic to do so. For example, Octink donated PVC banners to the Electric Railway Museum in Coventry to help protect historic trains stored outside from the elements.
It is also seeking to take recycling a stage further through ‘closed loop’ products, which means that signage and display material is re-made into new display material, instead of used for other products, closing the loop in the product cycle.
Therefore a sign at The Chelsea Flower Show could re-appear the next year as signage in a different guise. A practice widely seen as the gold standard of recycling. It takes far less energy to make the transition from one product to another.
So there’s food for thought, turning green into gold and still winning your company the plaudits and attention that accompanies a reputation for leaving as small a set of carbon footprints behind as possible.