Science writer for UTS since 2014 and language enthusiast (Spanish, Latin, French and basic Portuguese). Her interests include health, environment, social justice and foreign affairs.
New developments such as Barangaroo in Sydney are adding to the estimated 44,000 tonnes of annual refurbishment waste from office buildings.
Chairman and co-founder of Edge Environment Tom Davies said: “As tenants move to the new properties at Barangaroo, all the old property is being de-fitted and we're getting in huge amounts of particularly five streams of materials: carpet, tiles, ceiling tiles, plaster board and timber.”
A 2014 study by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) showed that the recovery of these materials was as little as 20%, even though a 2015 project in Macquarie Tower proved that 61% recycling was possible.
“The time gap between the old tenant leaving and new tenant coming in is literally days, sometimes even the weekend. There's very little you can do in a weekend to recover materials,” Mr Davies said.
Office workers and management are often unaware of the extent of the waste and the amount that ends up in the dump, even when attempting to be environmentally-friendly.
“Enormous effort goes into choosing green furniture for a new fit-out,” according to Greg Welsh, Director of sustainable Indigenous furniture company, Winya.
“The problem is that at no stage during that whole decision process about the new furniture is there absolutely any consideration of what's happened to the old stuff. The focus is on the new building and then there's the mad rush to get out of the old building.”
Blake Lindley, senior consultant from Edge Environment said the annual churn of office space in Australia was a major environmental concern.
“We come up with something like 3.078 million square meters a year in Australia... and you'll see in Sydney almost a million square meters a year. We know through studies that have been published in London and our own work that we waste around 63 tonnes of material per thousand square meters.”
Mr Welsh said that the goal would ultimately be to create a cycle of furniture use, whereby waste would be minimised.
“We want them to actually use recycled board in their new offices. Then they can send it back to us and we will recycle it again and turn it into new board for the next customer. That's the process. They end up with an actually genuine sustainable office.”