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How PwC is changing how rubbish is managed at work

How PwC is changing how rubbish is managed at work

Sadie Keenan, corporate sustainability manager at PwC, is pouring a tonne of energy into addressing and reducing the landfill contribution from their offices across Aotearoa, New Zealand. Recycling is confusing for people, especially knowing what numbers are collected for recycling, and which ones are not, and an office environment may have very different collections versus your residential kerbside. Generally, there’s a lot of aspirational recycling.

We have all done it: a disposable coffee cup, the odd plastic container. There’s no national certification for compostables, which is a lot of your takeout packaging, and like other materials, there are specific places they need to go for processing. And so misthrows are common. We want things to be recyclable, so we put them in the recycling bin—then that bin is contaminated, and the contents landfilled. Organic collections are also poorly understood, and while eateries, office towers and event venues represent places of high usage of takeaway items, these collections remain voluntary.

As a nation, we also send a lot of food to landfill. Uneaten food and managing food waste stands as a pressing challenge everywhere—in restaurants, at home and in the workplace. The world of compost has huge potential to change how we recover food scraps and manage rubbish, but there’s still work to be done. So how can we make it work? We visited the PwC office in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, to check out their bins, what’s in them and how their approach to waste reduction is working so far.

You began exploring options for waste reduction earlier this year, first conducting a waste audit. Can you tell us about the waste reduction strategies you have implemented so far and how they have contributed to reducing waste overall?

Our waste audit provided us with great insights into the types of waste our organisation produces as well as common items that are causing contamination. From there, we were able to work alongside Method to create really clear, simple signage for our offices to make it less confusing as to what goes in which bin. We have also introduced Method InSight into our larger offices to measure the amount of waste we are producing, identify trends and help us set reduction goals. We are still at the beginning of our waste journey, but having access to this data is incredibly valuable. 

Method recycling bin in PwC Auckland office with custom signage.

For the majority of people, they’re spending 40 hours in an office building or some other place of work, which is significant. What role do organisations have in taking responsibility for waste management?

Organisations must take responsibility for their waste and also be aware of what happens once it leaves their building. They also need to make it as simple as possible for their teams to dispose of their waste responsibly and to educate and provide guidance where required.

Precinct Properties require all vendors to use compostable packaging, and you also have an on-site commercial kitchen and an in-office barista in your Tāmaki Makaurau office. How much of your collections are compostable?

The results from our waste audit found that most of our waste is organic - food and compostable packaging, but there is a lot of contamination, and it is going into our landfill bins. So that is where we are targeting educating our people and our kitchen teams. As our organic waste goes to Envirofert, it can be confusing for people as it differs from their home collections regarding what is accepted.

Method Recycling waste station in PwC Auckland tower.

You mentioned it was important to get the buy-in of your landlord to facilitate collections. Beyond employees, who else have you needed to collaborate with?

For us, working with our cleaners was important so they understood what we were trying to do, particularly around using Method InSight. As mentioned, we work closely with our catering teams, and we also share our insights and learning with other tenants in Commercial Bay [our office complex] who face similar challenges.

What challenges have you experienced and overcome? What are some existing challenges?

Waste can be so confusing. There are still so many grey areas with what can go in each bin, and packaging can be misleading, so contamination is still an issue. With over 1,000 people in our office, we go through a lot of Tetra Pak, and there is not always the capacity to rinse and clean it for recycling. Our waste streams differ from the ones we have at home, so that also adds to the confusion.

Reusabowl stacked in a cupboard in the lunchroom at PwC

There’s also a focus on reusables. PwC provides water bottles and coffee cups to those who want them. We’ve been accustomed to taking bags to the supermarket since the 2019 bans. Do you find people are as committed to using these items?

Yes, particularly if you incentivise people. Our teams can get free morning barista coffees when using their reusable coffee cups and can get discounts at local eateries when they use Reusabowl. Aside from this, we also work with Will & Able returning empty cleaning packaging and milk bottles to them where these services are available through their close-the-loop programme. We have also introduced the Hōhepa milk delivery service in our Hawkes Bay office. We are always on the lookout for further opportunities to incorporate reusable and refill options where we can.

In what ways can we catalyse our work colleagues to think more about rubbish? What we create, and where it goes?

We are fortunate to have a Green Team network of nearly 100 environmentally-minded individuals who are constantly coming up with fun and innovative ways to educate their colleagues. They recently ran a waste challenge in our social hub to see if people knew where their rubbish should go, and it got really great feedback.

PwC Auckland Office entrance

What metrics or indicators do you use to evaluate your efforts?

The data from Method Insight gives us a breakdown per kg of our different waste streams and our waste audit showed us the levels of contamination. Our metrics of success will be seeing a reduction in contamination and our landfill contribution. 

Can you share any recent successes that you are particularly proud of?

I am particularly proud of the passion of our Green Team whānau and the events that they put on for the firm. Recently we had our waste challenge, make your own honey wraps, and recently held our first PwC Clothes Swap with guests from Mindful Fashion and Koha Apparel. It was a huge success, with over 400 garments donated to Koha Apparel to clothe people experiencing material hardship, which is also keeping clothing in circulation and out of landfills.

Waste station at PwC including recycling, general landfill and organics bins.

What advice or recommendations do you have for other office and building managers seeking to implement effective waste reduction strategies?

Start from the basement and identify what your challenges are. Our first step was visiting our waste provider, Rubbish Direct’s physical site and seeing exactly where our waste was going, and we worked backwards from there. We have taken a similar approach in our other offices. 

Try to make waste as simple as possible. We worked with Method to create simple and effective signage for our bins that matched our waste provider’s waste streams, making it easier for our cleaners and our people.

Lastly, in order to reduce your waste, you need to have the data so you can measure what waste you are producing. Then you can work towards reducing that impact.

Entrance to PwC tower, Auckland