Waste management is one of the primary urban environmental issues facing Asia today. This article from Sustainability Asia, published by CB Richard Ellis, Asia Pacific, examines regional waste management and recycling practices and looks at how the issue is moving rapidly up the building construction and management agenda.

18 March 2011 – Rapid industrialisation and development over the past two decades has brought with it unprecedented economic growth and prosperity. However, across many parts of the region, this progress has come at a significant ecological cost.

Increased population growth, urbanisation and growing levels of personal consumption have created some major environmental challenges. Perhaps none of these is more visible or damaging than the accelerated generation of waste.

Waste management is now one of the primary urban environmental issues facing the region and the challenges relating to dealing with Asia’s waste mountain are fast acquiring colossal proportions.

According to Waste Management in China: Issues and Recommendations (2005) published by the World Bank, China surpassed the US as the world’s largest waste generator in 2004. By 2030, China’s annual solid waste quantities will increase by another 150 per cent  growing from about 193 million tones (190 million tons) in 2004 to over 487 million tones (480 million tons) in 2030.

Hong Kong waste reaches danger point

In Hong Kong, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah in January 2010 warned that the city was “facing imminent disaster from a waste overdose”, with the special administrative regions three existing landfills expected to approach full capacity in 2014/2015.

Elsewhere around the region, rapid urbanisation, increased commercialisation and population growth are creating major waste disposal problems. In India, the uncontrolled dumping of waste on the outskirts of towns and cities is widespread and has resulted in serious environmental and public health problems.

Indonesia, the region’s third most populous country, is facing similar problems: Its urban areas generate about 55,880 tonnes (55,000 tons) of solid waste every day and just 50 to 60 per cent of the waste is collected, whilst most landfill sites are open dumps. Indeed, in many Asian countries today, solid waste disposal still means dumping, a fact which is largely due to a lack of political will and financial resources to improve public health and the environment.

Given the enormity of the waste challenge facing Asia, it is clear that all components of society have a role to play in reducing waste, none more so than the private sector. Indeed, waste management is something that all major corporations in the region are now being forced to look at, particularly with respect to their real estate operations.

It is no longer sufficient for companies wishing to be considered in the vanguard of corporate responsibility to simply report on their carbon emissions due to utility consumption. Solid waste refuse from business operations is the next issue to be tackled. Consequently, the issue is moving rapidly up the building construction and management sustainability agenda.

Commercial buildings generate a considerable amount of waste both in their day-to-day operations and also in their construction phase. Office waste usually consists of waste derived from the nature of the work taking place inside the premises such as paper, packaging and writing supplies.

It can also consist of refuse resulting from the everyday activities of office staff such as food and catering waste, cans, glass and plastic drink bottles, cleaning materials and excess or waste water from washrooms. Offices also generate a significant amount of redundant equipment and furniture which needs to be disposed of on a regular basis.

In 2010 commercial and industrial waste in Hong Kong comprised 22 per cent of all waste produced in the three main regions. Office waste impacts both the environment and a company’s bottom line as a lot of money is wasted on the needless and excessive use of paper and other materials used in the daily operation of a commercial premises.

Construction waste, meanwhile, consists of all waste originating from construction, renovation and demolition activities, such as rebar, insulation, nails, electrical wiring, rubble, bricks, tiles, wood, asphalt, tar and tar by-products, and is one of the most under-reported waste streams. The construction industry is one of the region’s largest consumers of natural resources and, unsurprisingly, also one of its largest producers of waste, much of which ends up in landfill without being recovered or reused.

The inefficient use and reuse of construction materials has major environmental impacts and causes the depletion of finite natural resources, as well as placing even further strain on the limited space available at landfill sites. Construction waste can be minimised by incorporating environmental concerns into the building design stage and implementing more stringent resource management during the actual building stage.

Perhaps the most impressive strides in waste management and recycling policy in Asia have been made in Singapore, which has just over five million residents, a high population density of 7022 people per square kilometre and very limited natural resources. An efficient system for the collection and disposal of waste is therefore critically important. The country has an advanced waste management system in place administered by the National Environment Agency which takes overall responsibility for the planning, development and management of solid waste disposal facilities and operations in the country.

Up until the end of the 1970s Singapore relied on numerous landfills around the island to handle solid waste but space constraints forced authorities to consider alternative methods of solid waste disposal. Waste-to-energy incineration, which is capable of reducing waste volume by over 90 per cent was found to be the most cost effective option, and Singapore’s first waste-to-energy was opened in 1978.

The country’s solid waste disposal infrastructure presently consists of the four WTE plants located at Tuas, Senoko, Tuas South and an offshore sanitary landfill, Semakau Landfill. The overall Singapore recycling rate stood at 51 per cent in 2006, rising to 54 per cent in 2007 and 56 per cent by 2008, with the aim of reaching 60 per cent by 2012.

Singapore operates a voluntary national recycling program for households and trade premises. Recycling bags and bins are provided for the storage of recyclables which are collected fortnightly. It also implements charges for waste collection, which is outsourced to public waste collectors which provide services to designated domestic and trade premises in the island’s nine geographical sectors. For example, for construction and demolition waste, which comprises mainly non-incinerable materials, the National Environmental Agency charges $S77 (AUD61) per tonne for waste disposed. This system provides an incentive for developers to cut costs by reducing waste through better work processes such as the segregation of waste for recycling.

Recognising the significant quantity of waste generated by the built environment, waste management is now a key aspect addressed in Singapore’s Green Mark building certification scheme for buildings, administered by the Building and Control Authority. Under the scheme, points are awarded for buildings that incorporate waste management features such as pneumatic waste collection systems, dual chute waste disposal systems and other features that encourage recycling and the adoption of construction practices and materials that are environmentally sustainable and minimise construction waste.

City Developments Limited

The proactive and innovative approach towards waste management adopted by the Singaporean government has filtered through to a number of developers and landlords in the Lion City. City Developments Limited, one of Singapore’s biggest landlords, has been incorporating sustainable business practices and promoting green outreach programs as an integral part of its corporate social responsibility commitment since the late 1990s, with waste management a key component of this strategy.

“As a major landlord in Singapore and given the importance of waste management in Singapore’s context, it is important for us to responsibly manage waste generated in our commercial properties and ensure it is in-line with our green commitment,” says Ms Esther An, CDL’s head of corporate social responsibility.

From 2005 CDL established a paper recycling program for tenants in all of its commercial buildings in Singapore. All new tenants are presented with a “project: eco-office” kit to promote the 3Rs (re-use, reduce and recycle) while recycling corners are made accessible to tenants to promote and cultivate recycling practices. The participation rate of tenants in this program increased from 68 per cent in 2005 to more than 90 per cent in 2009.

CDL works with recycling companies to recycle used paper and also engages with tenants in other environmental outreach initiates to cultivate a green working environment. “As recycling is voluntary in Singapore it takes time and effort for us to nurture, encourage and promote recycling amongst tenants through a variety of outreach engagement programs,” says Ms An. “Nevertheless, the high participation rate of our tenants in the program is very encouraging,” she adds.

Many of CDL’s properties such as city square mall, which was the first private commercial development in Singapore to receive the BCA green mark platinum award, include green features specifically related to waste management such as twin chute pneumatic refuse collection and disposal system to separate dry and wet refuse for recycling purposes.

The company has also adopted sustainable construction and design methodology at its work sites to reduce environmental impacts and material wastage.  Efficient construction methods such as the use of prefabrication and precast construction technology are used and CDL makes use of recycled materials wherever feasible in its developments. Most of CDL’s construction building components are now precast or prefabricated and tested off-site and then transported to the work site to be assembled systematically. This creates less construction debris, as well as less heat, noise and pollution generated on site.

Elsewhere around the region, Taiwan, in particular Taipei City, has a well deserved reputation as a regional leader in waste management and recycling. The Taipei City government charges households and industries for the volume of rubbish they produce and will only collect waste if it is disposed in specially issued rubbish bags.

Separation of recyclable materials is compulsory and pick-up services are provided roughly twice a week by garbage trucks, which collect and organise over 30 different types of waste. This strategy has successfully reduced the amount of waste the city produces and increased the proportion of waste that is recycled. In 1997 the amount of trash produced per capita in Taipei reached a historical high of 1.14 kilograms per day. However, by the end of 2008, it had fallen by almost half to 0.52 kilogram per person per day.

Taiwan’s overall recycling rate stood at nearly 42 per cent in 2008, a figure exceeding that achieved by major developed nations including the United States, France and the United Kingdom. Incineration is the primary method for solid-waste treatment in Taiwan, with disposal in landfills only employed as an auxiliary method. The country’s 24 incinerators are all of the waste-to-energy type, whereby heat generated from burning garbage is converted into electricity and sold to Taiwan Power Company.

Japan is another example of regional best practice in waste management and recycling legislation. The country has adopted an integrated waste and material management approach that promotes dematerialisation and resource efficiency. Over the past decade resource productivity has increased, municipal waste generation has decreased and land filled waste has dramatically declined.

The government’s ‘sound material cycle society’ initiative launched in 2000 brought with it a number of new regulatory codes including the fundamental law for establishing a sound material-cycle society, waste management and public cleansing law, law for the promotion of utilization of recyclable resources and other specific laws targeting containers and packaging, electric household appliances, construction materials, food, vehicles and green purchasing. Clear roles and responsibilities for national, prefectural and local governments have been identified along with those for citizens, non government organisations and private firms.

Waste in Tokyo is divided into four major categories, recyclable waste (used paper, glass bottles, cans, PET bottles; combustible waste (kitchen refuse, wood and grass, waste paper), non-combustible waste (ceramics, metals, chinaware) and bulky waste (furniture, futons, electronic waste, where treatment charges apply)

Recyclable waste, either from domestic or construction sources, is recycled at high rates: 72 per cent for paper, 99 per cent for concrete, 80 per cent for wood (as of 2006). Municipal authorities in the city require large businesses to submit recycling plans and require companies to implement used paper recycling and minimisation programs.

As a result of progress in the recycling of containers and packaging required by the law and recycling of used paper at offices, the amount of general waste produced in Tokyo was reduced from 6.23 million tons (6.13 million tons) in 1989 to 4.52 million tonnes (4.45 million tons) in 2005. The high rate of recycling of waste concrete (99 per cent of 2006) has largely been due to the success of the construction waste recycling law (2002), which enforced the recycling of construction and demolition waste.

Some impressive waste management and recycling achievements in Japan underline the progress that can be made with the support of a comprehensive regulatory framework. In July 2010 Fujitsu Group announced that all of its 371 offices in the country had successfully achieved zero landfill and incinerator waste resulting from the disposal of confidential and ordinary wastepaper and industrial waste products.

The initiative which was the country’s largest zero office-waste project, formed part of stage V of Fujitsu’s environmental protection program, which covered fiscal years 2007 through 2009. One of the hurdles in attaining this goal was small-lot recycling of wastepaper from offices. The company addressed this issue by setting up Japan’s first nationwide paper recycling system which took in all wastepaper, both confidential and ordinary, for recycling. Under the category of industrial waste products, Fujitsu processes decommissioned office equipment through its own recycling centres. Other waste products were handled by contractors with established recycling processes, which combined to bring industrial-waste emissions to zero.

Hong Kong
Despite Hong Kong’s status as one of the most developed and advanced cities in the region, it has made only limited progress towards implementing an effective waste management and recycling strategy. A study released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development last year found that the city generated 6.45 million tonnes of rubbish in 2010, more than double the amount two decades ago.

Translated into a per capita figure, each of its seven million people produced 921 kilograms of municipal solid waste, a figure which excluded construction and hazardous waste, giving Hong Kong the unenviable title of the most wasteful place in the world. Half of the waste dumped in landfills was generated by the more than two million households, while the commercial and industrial sectors were the second-largest source of waste, accounting for about 22 per cent.The rest was mixed construction and special waste.

Around half of the rubbish generated ended up in landfills, with the rest being dealt with through recycling and other means. The city dumped 1.28kg of refuse per day per head in landfills, compared with 0.52kg in Taiwan and 0.44kg in South Korea. After recycling landfills are the only option for handling waste in Hong Kong after the city’s last incinerator was closed in 1997. Measures considered critical to reducing waste such as charging fees for disposal and product responsibility schemes have yet to be implemented, although in 2006 a landfill charge for construction waste was implemented, an initiative which has been credited with reducing the waste in landfill by 50 per cent.

The environmental protection department has also introduced the WasteWi$e scheme, a program offering companies free advice on ways to reduce and manage the waste they produce, although this is only a voluntary initiative.

Green groups in Hong Kong believe the government must start charging for solid waste disposal in a bid to discourage individuals and businesses from producing excessive waste and to encourage the separation of rubbish. “To date the government has implemented voluntary schemes mainly to encourage the public and the private sector to reduce waste,” says Edwin Lau, director of Friends of the Earth (HK).

“There has been very little legislation, however, and consequently Hong Kong lags behind other countries in the region such as Taiwan and South Korea. At the same time, the waste mountain continues to grow ever larger,” he adds. Friends of the Earth (HK), which has long campaigned for an overhaul of waste management and recycling legislation in Hong Kong, says the government should place greater emphasis on  waste avoidance strategies such as producer responsibility, implement waste charging, impose a landfill ban and introduce a user-friendly yet comprehensive recycling system.

Developers and landlords can build in low waste approaches

Lau believes that the corporate sector has a crucial role to play in waste management, in particular with regard to its real estate operations. “Developers and landlords should build with low-waste approaches to reduce construction and demolition waste,” he says. “They can also designate locations to install waste sorting facilities on every floor and in a building’s centralised garbage handling area to make it convenient for tenants to sort and recycle their waste,” he adds.

Friends of the Earth recommend that landlords establish waste reduction and recycling guidelines for tenants to follow, particularly for e-waste, which is often the most environmentally damaging form of waste, and ensure all waste is collected and delivered to government approved recycling companies. Waste charging legislation is also key. “Although one can establish guidelines for the industry to follow, this will always be weaker than legislation,” says Lau. “Once companies understand that they need to pay for the waste they generate, they will all want to pay less by carefully reducing their waste,” he adds.

With Hong Kong lagging behind regional best practices on waste management and recycling legislation as exemplified by the likes of Japan, Singapore and Taiwan, the onus has been on developers and a selected group of occupiers in the regions to take the lead. Swire Properties, one of the city’s leading developers, is working to support its tenants, customers and contractors to manage and reduce waste through implementing various waste management programs at its premises and construction sites.

GoMixer reduces organic food waste in HSBC offices

The company recycles office equipment and used goods to reduce usage and wastage including paper, cans/tins, plastic bottles, newspaper/cardboard, as well as glass bottles and polystyrene. It has also launched a managed print service which uses multi-functional all-in-one devices to replace old printers, copiers, scanners, and fax machines. In addition, it has piloted the implementation of GoMixer, an organic waste disposal system and applied new vermiculture technology to convert organic kitchen waste to organic fertiliser.

“We take an approach which is both ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up,” said HSBC’s senior operations and environmental services manager in Hong Kong, Barnabas Leung. “On the one hand, management sets waste reduction targets, puts systems in place and invests in initiatives. At the same time, we raise employee awareness by encouraging people to volunteer as ‘green ambassadors,’organise environmental related activities and gradually enlarge the circle of influence,” he said.

The company has developed an in-house waste recycling guide to help employees understand the appropriate way to handle different types of office waste. It has also implemented a centralised waste management program involving the removal of individual waste bins at employees’ desks and the creation of central waste collection points in its offices.

Partnering with service providers is crucial according to Leung. “We work with our building facilities management company and cleaning contractors to ensure the proper handling of waste,” he said. Before a service provider is selected it has to go through HSBC’s pre-qualification risk assessment process to ensure that it is suitable for the task at hand. Environmental clauses and terms are included in agreements with service providers. Although it is not feasible for HSBC to witness every recycling and waste management procedure carried out by its service providers from start to finish, it does conduct random spot checks on its waste management and recycling service providers, who are required to provide data to HSBC for reporting purposes.

As of 2011 there are enough products, technologies, processes and organisations in place to make it possible to have a zero waste office. However, although much can be done to minimise waste and encourage re-use at an individual or office level, there are instances where a company’s purchasing strategy needs to be addressed, which will usually form part of a broader environmental management policy. Green procurement, or the purchase of office products made partially or wholly from reclaimed materials, will ensure that the market for waste materials from offices remains robust and office recycling schemes will flourish.

Whilst every country in the region undoubtedly recognises the importance of waste management and recycling, the standards and implementation of legislation varies significantly across different markets, with Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan well ahead of much of the rest of Asia. This divergence is causing a certain degree of confusion for many occupiers, who are unsure as to whether separated waste in certain markets really gets recycled or if it merely gets mixed up again and dumped into landfill.

In Singapore the process is transparent and easy to track and manage but in other markets, particularly in South East Asia, there is no way of tracking the “paper-trail” or confirming that waste which is sorted and separated is actually recycled.

Nevertheless, as the social, financial, and environmental impacts of Asia’s growing waste mountain continue to exacerbate, waste generated in the workplace and during the construction process will receive increasing attention from policymakers. Indeed, the importance of the waste management hierarchy, or the “3Rs” (reduce, re-use, recycle), is gradually being recognised across the region, although the challenge is to put it into practice effectively in the many different contexts found in Asia.

Whilst the proper waste management and recycling of office and construction waste in many markets remains voluntary and is being pursued by companies as part of their commitment to corporate social responsibility and sustainability, the legislative requirement to do so is just around the corner.

The next few years will see the likes of Singapore and Japan continue to tighten their regulatory framework and other countries, particularly China and India, will begin to catch up. Companies not wishing to be left behind should be keeping up to date on waste management and recycling legislation in the markets where they operate and taking action now to ensure their offices achieve zero-waste wherever possible.


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