Resource management: Soft services and consulting

Practitioners predict where the waste management industry is heading

ANALYSIS, Projects

For most of us, the waste we produce is forgotten the moment it is out of sight – and we like it like that. In one way or another, we pay for it to be someone else’s problem. But for those in the GCC soft services industry charged with dealing with that which we no longer want or need, the available solutions to this problem are the subject of much debate.

The considerations for the soft services industry when managing waste are manifold. Among the foremost issues is the logistics of transporting refuse on its journey through a building. Chris Bond, director of operations at facilities management (FM) consultant Mace Macro, says the extent of this problem can often be dictated by the basic architecture of a building.

“The ease, or otherwise, of collecting and moving waste efficiently through a building, from the point of disposal to storage, and the ability to store waste both hygienically and in terms of available storage area, are issues that often arise in building waste management operations,” says Bond.

“The input of facilities management expertise at the design stage of a project can help to reduce and remove these issues,” he adds.

These logistical issues can be further complicated if waste segregation is to be carried out onsite prior to collection, according to Jason Ruehland, operations director at Emrill.

“Space provision needs to be considered for segregating and storing waste ready for collection, along with the manpower requirements, as it is manpower-intensive to segregate waste,” he says.

Ruehland adds that a waste management operation must also, of course, pay close attention to the paying customer and their demands.

“Any soft services provider needs to understand the client’s sustainability targets to deliver services according to requirements. The client’s waste agreements are imperative to review and consider as some , for example, may not require waste segregation.”

Kris Young, business development director at cleaning, water and remediation provider 1-ML, says that soft services providers can also take a more proactive approach to sustainability issues in waste management rather than relying solely on client instruction.

“Services contractors [should] aim to reduce cost for the operator by adopting environmentally-friendly methods, training their staff and using ‘green’ or bio-organic products for their services,” she says.

“When this practice is put in place, the waste management operator will be able to work more efficiently, increasing their input of waste, and recycling more material. Early planning with proper consideration to all aspects of the contract is also critical.”

However, Young adds that the best efforts of soft services providers in this regard can be met with resistance.

“Cost can be a factor,” she says. “If we are looking to introduce green products, they may be a touch more expensive, but the long-term effect is more beneficial than regular chemicals used to do the same job.

“Part of this challenge is that the client does not generally consider long-term savings by way of saved maintenance costs and improving the life of his facility, but is more concerned with immediate costs,” Young adds.

Another barrier to sustainable and environmentally-friendly waste management is highlighted by Emrill’s Ruehland, who says that the potential for effective waste segregation varies greatly between different facilities.

“One of the major challenges includes lack of investment for infrastructure and manpower to carry out waste segregation, along with the specific terms for pickup collection from operators who collect recycled materials, which can be incredibly restrictive.

“For example, in vertical towers with garbage shoots, there are major challenges for actual waste segregation and preventing the contamination of recycled materials due to the lack of space provision and points where the waste can actually be segregated. In commercial complexes, such as a mall, it is generally easier with dedicated areas for segregation and preparation of the waste before it is moved to the waste collection point.”

In addition to this, Mace Macro’s Bond says that waste management would be significantly improved if clients adjust their thinking on the relationship between waste output and human resource input.

“There is a tendency towards input-based service contracts, where the quantity of staff resources is specified by the client,” says Bond. “It is far more efficient, and cost effective, to specify waste management in terms of outputs – for example, remove and segregate waste on a daily basis. This allows the soft service contractors flexibility to use their expertise in how the service is delivered and gives them the opportunity to demonstrate innovation.”

Over recent years, Bond says that such windows for progressive thinking have yielded some considerable advances in the field of waste management.

“Segregation at source – getting the user to sort waste streams (plastic, aluminium, glass, paper) – has undoubtedly made an impact on waste management efficiency and cost. Many innovations have come at other points in the waste management chain, including waste-to- energy (power generation from waste), waste sorting technology and self-cleaning glass,” he says.

For Ruehland, innovation in waste management is not necessarily confined to improvements in technology and processes, but can be achieved by influencing attitudes and behaviours.

“In the United Kingdom, there is a landfill directive which has pushed waste management initiatives and been supported by extensive school education programmes across the country,” he says.

“Stronger landfill fees motivate waste reduction and encourage innovation from the private sector and waste management companies. Educating children is a great way of quickly driving change into homes and preparing the future generations to be more conscious of their impact on the environment.”

Ruehland adds that this drive to make consumers take greater responsibility for their own waste has already started in the GCC and is just one of the many trends the soft services industry is now seeing.

“In the UAE we are seeing communities and schools introducing more waste recycling points. The industry is also really starting to embrace innovation that delivers real hard savings; just take a look at washrooms where waterless urinals have been introduced in malls to reduce sewage waste and water consumption, plus low-energy hand dryers that drastically reduce paper towel use.

“At Emrill, we have changed our cleaning products to eco-friendly non-toxic super concentrates. Five litres of super concentrate can make 5000 litres of floor cleaner. Simple initiatives like these can help reduce your transportation and operational waste cost as well,” he adds.

While highlighting the trend towards target-setting by authorities to divert waste from landfill to recyclable facilities, Mace Macro’s Bond adds that the future of waste management will likely involve a more diverse approach to ensure its effectiveness and efficiency.

“I see there being an increasing focus in three areas: reducing waste generation, adopting more biodegradable materials in products, and levying charges in relation to waste,” he says. “The latter is already starting with some retailers in the UAE now charging for plastic bags. There are challenges, however: for example, the retail industry has a big role to play in moving away from the quantity and environmentally-harmful effects of excessive packaging.”

For Ruehland, the focus in the coming years and beyond will be on recycling waste and managing it in a way that ensures its reuse is maximised.

“What we’ll see is a lot more segregation at the point of collection and greater demand for innovative methods to keep manpower as low as possible, while making sure the recyclable material is kept in its best possible condition,” he says.

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