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Situation

The commercial & industrial (C&I) waste stream accounted for 50% of the total tonnes of waste sent to Central Queensland landfills each year. Central Queensland Local Government Association (CQLGA) was awardeded a grant from the Australian Packaging Covenant and the QLD Department of Environment and Resource Management in 2009/10 to deliver a program to improve recycling by businesses and homes in the region.

Key challenges

  1. Central Queensland covers a geographically large area of regional Australia. There are very long distances between towns/collection sites, few weighbridges and commercial sensitivities involved in gathering data on recyclable tonnages
  2. There was minimal use of recycling services by businesses in the region, only a few recycling companies providing commercial recycling services, and not many facilities for processing of recycling in the local region.
  3. There was no targeted local available research on business needs, barriers to nor benefits of recycling. It had been difficult to gather data about waste disposal in the region, despite best efforts of CQLGA.
  4. Little available regionally-appropriate frameworks to encourage businesses to take up recycling services or minimise their waste.

Solution

Develop a behaviour change based program focused on businesses to encourage them to take responsibility for reducing waste at work, starting with recycling.

1. Initial research and piloting

The ‘towardzero’ program was developed based on evidence and research which included:

  • waste stream data for central Queensland
  • landfill records, business survey on attitudes to waste and recycling
  • business waste assessment data
  • a pilot program involving more than 30 businesses
  • industry discussions with council officers and contractors operating in the region
  • local and international research on recycling habits and behaviours.

Surveys, discussions and a pilot program with local businesses found:

  1. Businesses were interested in recycling but couldn’t see an easy way to do it, but they needed to be approached in a different way to households
  2. Small to medium businesses should be the focus for behaviour change as many of the large corporately owned businesses (e.g. retail chains, fast food businesses) and government bodies already had programs in place.
  3. The perceived complexity and cost of contractor offerings, coupled with limited space for recycling infrastructure and regular changes of management, were barriers to business recycling

2. Program design and development

TowardZero – reducing waste at work was created as a free program for small to medium CQ businesses and was provided by Central Queensland Local Government Association on behalf of local councils in the region.

A towardZero workplace mentor would engage with businesses across the region to assess their waste needs and identify what types of equipment would support businesses to implement better recycling and waste management practices. They would then arrange to provide the equipment to the businesses and support them to implement a recycling program, after the business committed to reducing their waste.

The program development included:

  • Recruiting a ‘workplace mentor’
  • Consulting with internal and external stakeholders and identifying how to most effectively engage with businesses and contractors
  • Developing a plan for what the workplace mentor would do to engage with businesse
  • Developing a basic reporting tool to record and collate business contact information and waste assessment data
  • Identifying and sourcing recycling infrastructure and support materials for business use
  • Creating a communications plan
  • Developing, designing and producing professional communications to reach and engage businesses, raise awareness of the program and plan an advertising and promotional campaign.
  • Undertaking follow up sessions with more complex businesses
  • Reporting findings and progress back to business participants and stakeholders

3. Program delivery

Workplace Mentor

The Workplace Mentor worked with all types of business and industry across the region, with key roles being:

  1. Recruit businesses
  2. Assess their waste
  3. Encourage them to commit to reducing waste
  4. Supporting them to take action and implement systems to minimise waste.

The workplace mentor regularly liaised with council officers, businesses and contractors regarding the changing business and recycling landscape, and reported findings to stakeholders.

toward zero recycling bag bag
Trials of different mechanisms for collecting recyclables in workplace
Infrastructure and equipment

Based on waste assessment, plans and business needs, the Workplace Mentor provided free equipment to support businesses to implement better recycling and waste management practices. This equipment included a range of prompts, resources and tools such as internal and external bins, instructional posters and stickers – which were tailored to different types of businesses.

Communications and engagement

The engagement elements of towardZero are maintained by a high profile communications and advertising campaign across a range of channels, including television, radio, print and outdoor advertising; news stories and other PR; presentation at businessevents; face to face and phone conversations with businesses by the Workplace Mentor; direct mail campaigns and promotion of the businesses involved.

4. Monitoring and evaluation

Objectives were aligned with the CQ Waste Management Strategy targets of reducing the current landfilled components of the domestic and C&I streams with an intention to encourage a steady increase in recycling based on tonnages already achieved.

It was identified early on that – given a lack of weighbridges in the region and commercial sensitivities involved in gathering data on recyclable tonnages from waste companies – the success of the program would need to be measured in an unconventional way.

In addition to the tonnage targets, a range of key performance indicators were set to enable progress to be evaluated outside the parameters of tonnage. This was necessary due to the difficulties in accurately measuring and gaining access to data to all aspects of the business waste and recycling process.

Key data collected

  1. Waste assessments for business
  2. Waste stream and landfill data where available
  3. Business information including sector, collected data, visits and progress
  4. Contractor and landfill services and capacity
  5. Communications reach and impact.

Outcomes

More than 200 businesses registered their interest in the program, and more than 120 signed up to become a towardZero workplace – with a designated ‘towardZero hero’ assigned to manage the project within the business.

These business committed to participating in the program, were provided with some equipment to support recycling and waste minimisation and had access to the mentor for further information.

At the program’s end, there were more than 470 businesses on a ‘potential contact’ database, over 160 of these had been contacted by the mentor, 120 had signed up to the program and more than 40 had already completed a waste assessment.

These businesses combined were sending an estimated 16,705 tonnes of waste to landfill each year, and recycling 1646 tonnes – representing a recycling rate of 9%.

Learnings and lessons

Workplace Mentor

As an engagement and education program, the ability of the workplace mentor to visit and spend time with businesses was crucial the program’s success. This one to one interaction was the instigator for ongoing and meaningful behaviour change.

Smaller businesses could be visited once by the workplace mentor to assess waste needs and potential diversion tactics. More complex and larger organisations often required more than three visits to gain commitment, complete the waste assessment, follow up, provide infrastructure and conduct training. This took time away from speaking with other businesses.

Given the program’s engagement focus, additional time needed to be scheduled to allow for follow ups – potentially reducing the number of businesses which could be visited and engaged within the project timelines.

As part of their training, the workplace mentor spent time with a recycling contractor salesperson and a collection truck to understand the challenges and opportunities faced from service providers. This was acknowledged as an extremely useful training tool.

CQ TowardZero Billboard
Outdoor advertising billboard promoting the program
Communications

The communications portion of the project was successful in raising awareness and promotion of the overall program, and clear messaging produced a cohesive approach in all materials – attracting businesses to the program and the idea of recycling in general.

Equipment and infrastructure

A complex points system to ‘earn’ infrastructure and equipment was first proposed, based on the potential tonnes of recycling a business could divert each year. A more successful approach was to provide infrastructure to business on the first visit – particularly for smaller businesses.

Reporting

Reporting across several council areas resulted in, at times, conflicting targets and reporting mechanisms. These were identified early in the process, but required some consultation to ensure all areas were happy with the overall aims of the program.

Initially, an Excel spreadsheet was used to house data from the project but it became obvious that an integrated database was needed. Ideally, the data parameters and measurement requirements would be established earlier in the project so a fully functional database could be used to support collation and reporting.

Predictions based on assessments indicated, with the support of the program,  participating businesses could increase recycling by 251% – equivalent to 5,779 tonnes a year.

How to Guide

Download the complete guide to help you implement your own TowardZero Business Waste Mentor Program

About the organisations involved

CQLGA  worked effectively for 55 years to build partnerships, represent local councils and deliver programs which raised the profile of local government and supported sustainable waste management in the Central Queensland region. It incorporated the LGAs of Rockhampton, Gladstone, Central Highlands, Isaac and Banana.

Funding from the Australian Packaging Covenant and the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management enabled delivery of the Regional Integrated Recycling Program – of which this program was an integral component.

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