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  • Circular Impact

To reduce fit out waste we need changes in our leasing process.

Context

When you examine the standard fit out materials with a view to how they could be salvaged, reused, or recycled you understand that before we even get to that point, the preferred answer would be to reduce the turnover in fit outs in the first place or/and to use material that have been design to be adaptable to changes .


Leasing Processes

The waste problem is a manifestation of the extent to which office fit out churn takes

place. The relatively small amount of research in the area of fit out churn includes a recent Australian study by Forsythe (2017) who uses leasing data to estimate a fit out churn rate of 8.2 years for prime grade office buildings in the Sydney CBD area.

Under any of these cycle times, it is evident that fit out is treated as a short life

consumable rather than a long life durable (Forsythe and Wilkinson, 2015). More so, the

above scenario is exacerbated where tenants rather than base building owners pay for, and are responsible for, removing the fit out. This is exacerbated by the

ubiquitous “make good clause” that is common in most tenancy leasing agreements and“potentially causes “triple waste” (RICS, 2012, p. 10). Here, outgoing tenants must remove “their fit-out from the base building (including partitions, furniture, finishes, floor coverings and certain building services), which is followed by reinstatement of the pre-lease fit-out then, this will likely change again, when new tenants occupy the space and install their own new fit-out (RICS, 2012).

Obviously, the fit-out churn problem results in a waste problem that aggregates over the operational life of an office building

The greatest amount of waste is generated when a tenant leaves a space and it is prepared for or by the following tenant. There is also churn within the lifespan of a tenancy, as a tenant makes alterations to accommodate changes to workforce numbers or workplace arrangements.


complexity of the waste avoidance question and show that each material and each

problem needs to be tackled specifically. There are recurring issues that can be solved by systemic change, and these are addressed by this study.


Glass

Very little glass ends up in landfill due to its weight and the associated cost, and the ease

of access to alternative recycling uses. Equally, very little is recycled into its original use

because of the contamination risk to the continuous production line. A key reason for not

salvaging glazed assemblies is that the sizes are not standardized. To address this

designers would have to adapt plans for new work to accommodate the found sizes, or

alternatively, be more disciplined about specifying standard sizes.


Plasterboard

Although in principle the gypsum core of plasterboard could be recycled into new

plasterboard, the reality of site contamination, the labour intensive collection and sorting,

and the difficulties of cost effectively removing the paper face mean that this is rare for

material sourced from commercial fit-outs. The best waste avoidance solution is

demountable systems, but these are not commonly used. The down cycling option of

grinding gypsum for agricultural use is limited by transport distance and cost. Plasterboard was universally nominated as a material that is always found in the waste stream.


Ceiling tiles

The low cost of new ceiling tiles means the economics of recycling do not work in

Australia, despite the large quantities of waste generated. The transport costs make the

limited recycling opportunities unattractive. Aesthetics and poor management drive much of the replacement demand. Being modular, whole ceiling assemblies – grids and tiles –are suitable for reuse but the handling time and cost make it uneconomical. Its primary fate is landfill. The cardboard packaging of new tiles also creates a high volume of waste, although it can be recycled in the paper stream. Integrated fit-outs where make good or new build ceilings are not installed prior to tenant designs will avoid a wasteful removal of good ceilings, as will building management control of products used.


Metals

The widely recognised value of metals and the ease of access to cash-paying recycling

merchants means that any wastage is recovered at every stage of the process and very

little is sent to landfill. Even then, the residual material that does arrive in landfill is mostly

recovered. The ease of recycling makes the handling costs of salvage uneconomical.

Although very little metal contributes to landfill quantities, avoidance, retention and reuse

of material are higher on the waste hierarchy than recycling. Specification of modular

products and design for standard dimensions would reduce site offcuts. Dismantling to

recover material for reuse also needs to become more prevalent.

Carpet

Carpet tiles have a reputation as a material with active product stewardship in place,

which is the case for a small number of manufacturers who use facilities for

recycling. Rearranging the wear pattern of tiles to increase their lifespan is not common despite this being a claimed major benefit. Aesthetics is the main driver for changing flooring. There is a small market in resale of second hand product. Most material goes to landfill, with some incinerated. More attention at specification stage to end of life options and recycled content is required, as well as good maintenance during product life and a take-up program for carpet tiles that is understood by the building owner.


Resilient vinyl flooring

Recycling of clean vinyl flooring such as offcuts is feasible, but colour mixing limits the

new product to a black-pigmented range. Transport distances, and contamination risk

from competitors’ products that use unacceptable ingredients, limit recycling of

demolished flooring tiles. Demolished sheet is not recycled due to cementitious

contamination, and the logistics of mixing it into tile production. Although most vinyl

flooring goes to landfill, it could be used for waste-to-energy, subject to EPA approval


Sources:

THE INSTITUTE FOR SUSTAINABLE FUTURES MARKET RESEARCH: TENANCY FITOUT MATERIAL PROCUREMENT ATTITUDES AND PRACTICES




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