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Waste collection is no longer a ‘by-product’ of cleaning

11 January 2021

"The demand for resources for a separate waste collection has skyrocketed in the last year," says Willem Sterkenburg, director of Ecosmart, in an interview for the digital magazine 'Facilitaire Trends of 2021'. Sustainability is making a shift: from a 'nice-to-have' to a 'must'. Waste collection is increasingly becoming a separate task within facilities management. "The time for cleaners to take care entirely of buildings' waste collection is over."   

2021 has become the year of action. "Society will make no more concessions in terms of Safety, Health, Environment and Quality, or 'SHEQ' for short. We are moving from chic to SHEQ, from nice-to-have to a license-to-operate."

2020 sowed the seed for this change. "The pandemic turned the world upside down", says Sterkenburg. "A year ago, working from home one day a week was flexible, now it's outdated. We can now see fishes in the Venice lagoon that we couldn't see before because of the polluted water. And the air has never been as clean as it was during the spring of 2020. We've all seen that our behaviour has a greater influence on the environment than we thought."

Our behaviour has a real impact
"Almost everyone knows the slogan: 'A better environment begins with you'. But it wasn't easy to envision for some people. 2020 showed the opposite: if we behave differently, it does make a real difference. This realisation was an eye-opener that can lead to better choices for our environment."

Sterkenburg also refers to the Earth Overshoot Day, the date on which humanity's resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth's capacity to regenerate those resources in that same year. This day has been arriving earlier and earlier each year, but not in 2020. Earth Overshoot Day was on 22 August, compared to 29 July in 2019.


“The realisation that behaving differently has a real impact will lead to other choices.”


In-House Waste Collection
"The year 2020 has taught us that we need to be less dependent on others," Sterkenburg adds. "The chains need to be shorter. Why does every product we use have to come from Asia? A scarcity of raw materials forces more self-sufficiency in our economy as a switch to using more secondary raw materials is coming. And you can recover those from waste."

And that will now be the speciality of EcoSmart, a subsidiary of Renewi. Of the one hundred Ecosmart staff, many are currently seconded to large organisations, such as commercial services and education. "We don't just supply resources for collecting internal waste. We also ensure it's separated (and remains as such), weighted, reported and treated."

No incentives to sort waste
“More and more organisations know that internal waste sorting is the first step in the circular chain, as part of the integral management of waste and raw materials”, Sterkenburg continues. In offices, you often see waste islands for three to six different waste streams. So, there are separate waste units for PMD (plastic, metal packaging and drinks cartons), VFG (“the trend for healthier eating means this category is constantly increasing”), coffee cups, paper and cardboard and residual waste. “Before you had one bin for paper and another for everything else, and that was it. Collecting the contents of all these separate waste units asks too much from cleaners”, Sterkenburg observes. “It is an annoying interruption in their cleaning duties. Their core business is to clean large surface areas efficiently. The business model does not offer any incentive for better waste separation.”


‘Sustainability is now more popular in many places.’


Re-use of raw materials
“EcoSmart business model focuses on that”, says Sterkenburg. “We all benefit from the collection of waste that has been sorted thoroughly and efficiently, and we make raw materials from this waste. Consequently, PMD produces a lot of raw materials for new products. Of course, composite packaging is always leftover; not all raw materials can be re-used. But, wherever possible, we strive for ‘zero waste’, for as little residual waste as possible through good waste separation at the source.”

Therefore, waste collection is a separate speciality within the facilities management service and security, reception, green spaces, and cleaning. “It is no longer a by-product of cleaning.”

Mattresses and Orange Peel
Sterkenburg is primarily referring to scalability with the phrase ‘action in 2021’. “The time for small initiatives and nice ideas is behind us. If you want to take steps in sustainability and circularity, you must develop scalable solutions. And you can now see these springing up in several places.”

He gives two practical examples, starting with Retourmatras, a business that recycles old mattresses into new raw materials. “They have entered into a collaboration with IKEA and Renewi. The return logistics happen through IKEA, and Renewi transports the old mattresses to the recycling factory. Retourmatras is now growing fast and already has three factories in operation.”

“Another concrete example is the collaboration with the scale-up Peelpioneers. They recover essential oils and other raw materials from citrus fruit peel such as oranges. In collaboration with Albert Heijn and Jumbo, Renewi supplies the peelings. Peelpioneers is now going to open a second factory.”


‘The cleaning business model does not offer any incentive for better waste separation.’


2020 as a pilot
According to Sterkenburg, a conclusion from 2020 is that: “we’ve had a sort of global pilot project, in which we’ve seen that we can make a difference. It’s not necessarily about having less, but thinking about our products and waste differently. Our earth does not produce an inexhaustible supply of raw materials for all the products we use daily. So, if we make diverse choices and organise things differently, we can use many more secondary raw materials. By doing that, we will make ourselves more sustainable, more self-sufficient and circular. In 2021, there will be new collaborations that will help humanity in making ecological and economic progress, and I am looking forward to that.”