The right to repair: Officeworks

Ryan Swenson, Officeworks Head of Sustainable Development, explains the company’s commitment to viewing all operations through a waste lens.

At the Consumer Affairs Forum in late 2019, Australian consumer affairs ministers agreed to consider right to repair laws. Right to repair laws, broadly, refer to legislation designed to boost individuals’ ability to repair electronic goods, in lieu of disposal or secondary reprocessing.

The emerging movement was developed in response to growing volumes of consumer waste ending up in landfill, and design concepts such as planned obsolescence, which deliberately seeks a high turnover of goods via quickly evolving technology.

Over the last five years, right to repair laws have been enacted in the US and Europe, forcing manufactures to cooperate with legitimate third-party repairers. This involves providing tools, diagnostic software and genuine parts to enable transparency and consumer choice.

Right to repair as a concept, which extends beyond electronics to all consumer goods, is simultaneously gaining traction, even receiving mention at a 2019 US Democratic primary debate.

While the environmental case for repair is clear, Australian economist Richard Denniss argues there is a concurrent economic one. Mr Denniss suggests, in his book Curing Affluenza, that communities that repair goods employ more people, per dollar spent, than those with a disposal mentality.

After developing a pilot repair project with Worlds Biggest Garage Sale in October 2019, one could surmise Officeworks, Australia’s home for office and student supplies, furniture and technology, also understands the dual benefits inherent in repair.

World’s Biggest Garage Sale, a Brisbane-based start-up, helps enable the circular economy through the activation of dormant goods. Put simply, they repair faulty or discarded products, hold large-scale community “garage sales” and return those goods into circulation.

Ryan Swenson, Officeworks Head of Sustainable Development, says the notion of repair works to foster community engagement and is one facet of a company-wide commitment to a holistic approach to waste.

As part of the project, teams from World’s Biggest Garage Sale repair and repurpose faulty Officeworks furniture that would otherwise be sent to landfill, thereby transforming waste into saleable products.

“It’s early days, so we’re still measuring the viability of moving to the next level and including more stores. But judging from initial feedback, Worlds Biggest Garage Sale seems positive about what they’ve been able to achieve with us. We are committed to operating a responsible and sustainable business, not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it’s important to our stakeholders and better for business.”

Ryan adds that Officeworks conduct a materiality assessment every two years to understand the issues most important to their stakeholders, which is then used to inform future priorities in the Officeworks Positive Difference Plan.

“It’s clear that addressing the issue of waste in a strategic and genuine way is important to all of our stakeholders, be it customers, team members, partners or investors,” he says.

HOLISTIC HIERARCHY

As part of Officeworks’ commitment to reducing its environmental impact, store teams utilise a balanced score card that reports on non-financial metrics, such as waste and recycling key performance indicators.

“It’s created a real sense of ownership at the store level. While Officeworks as a company has overarching sustainability targets, we’ve found that individual store teams are now setting their own targets,” he says.

Ryan notes that in 2019, 16 individual stores achieved a 90 per cent recycling rate, six per cent higher than Officeworks’ overall rate of 84 per cent.

“Our Ringwood store team has reduced its waste to such an extent that it’s now down to one household wheelie bin. The team has basically eliminated waste costs and moved to weekly council collection,” Ryan says.

“Ringwood achieved this through creativity. For instance, establishing a compost bin in the carpark garden. The apartment building next store is now also using it to compost their coffee grinds. I believe the intention is to also create a community garden right there on-site.”

According to Ryan, another store in Western Australia is taking a similar outside the box approach, setting up a free collection point for print and copy offcuts.

“Laminate roll cut offs and all sorts of card and paper are being left at this collection point. Schools in the area are then taking that material and using it in their craft projects. As a result, that store has seen a significant reduction in waste,” he says.

“Over the last six months we have been able to reduce the waste we send to landfill by 24 per cent, which is a great result both environmentally and from a financial perspective.”

PROBLEMATIC PRODUCTS

Despite a range of successful reduction initiatives, for a business-like Officeworks, which supplies tens of thousands of products across 167 stores, some level of waste is unavoidable. The focus then, Ryan says, is ensuring as much of that waste is recyclable as possible.

To that end, Officeworks rolled out a national polystyrene recycling program in February, following a successful 2019 trial. Initially tested at 20 stores, the program, now national, utilises additional pallet space in Officeworks reverse logistics network.

“We found that most of the faulty stock pallets we send back are 1.5 metres high, whereas the trucks can take up to 1.8 metres high,” Ryan says.

“To use that wasted space, the team began bagging their polystyrene on-site, and on weekly or fortnightly returns, we use that additional height to send the bags back to a central recycling point.”

Due to polystyrene’s notoriously difficult to recycle nature, Ryan says collecting the material for recycling at a centralised location removes a number of logistical layers.

He adds however that the program is designed to operate as a medium-term solution, with Officeworks continuing to address polystyrene via innovative packaging and transport approaches. As a next step, polystyrene will be removed from all international furniture shipping and replaced with cardboard from March.

“Our buying teams worked closely with suppliers to redesign our packaging and totally eliminate polystyrene,” Ryan says.

“From a commercial side, we needed to ensure the packaging was still fit for purpose and the product protected. So, we ran a number of trials before landing on our current cardboard solution.”

Additionally, in November 2019, Officeworks announced the rollout out of national battery and pen recycling programs, to be available across most stores by the end of 2020.

While no federally mandated national product stewardship scheme exists for batteries, Ryan says Officeworks understood battery recycling was important to their customers.

“It was an obvious choice for us to roll out the battery program: it’s a problematic product, but the recycling solutions do exist,” he says.

“We worked hard to develop a feasible national system, before trialling the program in a few stores. In terms of customer take up, the results were really positive.”

The pen program, Ryan adds, was developed by Bic and Terracycle, and launched as part of Officeworks new national recycling stations roll-out.

“With the volume of pens that come from schools and offices, and the volume that we sell, this was an important initiative for us,” he adds.

Following this range of new sustainability initiatives, Ryan says Officeworks saw it fit to appoint a specialised Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Manager.

Starting in February, the manager’s role is to approach waste holistically and work to reduce it across the entire business.

“They will also work closely with the merchandising team to address excessive packaging and oversee our customer recycling programs to ensure they are operating efficiently,” Ryan explains.

“The intention is to view all operations through a waste lens, so by working with individual stores and the supply chain, we can not only reduce our environmental impact, but also our cost of doing business.”

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National recycling scheme launches for batteries and plastic pens

Officeworks has launched a new way for customers to dispose of batteries, pens and markers, as part of upgrades to recycling stations across most of its stores over the next 12 months.

The program was launched by Assistant Waste Reduction Minister Trevor Evans at Officeworks Osborne Park store in Perth, Western Australia.

“Australians can now recycle their batteries, pens and markers at Officeworks, in addition to e-waste, computers and accessories, ink and toner cartridges and mobile phones,” Mr Evans said.

“It is another step forward in Australia transitioning towards a more circular economy, in which we recognise the value of our waste resources and reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.”

Mr Evans said every Australian, including all levels of government, has a part to play in the waste and recycling “revolution.”

“I am delighted that Officeworks is playing its part to improve our environment, and assisting customers to dispose responsibly of unwanted technology items for free in their stores at dedicated recycling collection points,” Mr Evans said.

“Recycling old batteries and plastic pens and markers is one very practical and easy thing we can all do.”

According to Mr Evans, Officeworks existing recycling program has already collected more than 10 million ink and toner cartridges and 4800 tonnes of e-waste.

“Officeworks is planning to have battery recycling available in all its stores, and pen recycling in most stores, by the end of 2020,” Mr Evans said.

“Officeworks will recycle batteries in partnership with Envirostream, and pens and markers in partnership with BIC.”

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Officeworks takes charge

Officeworks’ Ryan Swenson highlights the company’s smart approach to back-of-house and customer recycling.

As a major supplier of office products and solutions for homes, businesses and schools, Officeworks’ customer footprint is by no means small. Its 168 stores buttress more than 8000 team members, in addition to three distribution centres and two support centres.

Developing an overarching sustainability plan therefore necessitated smarter thinking about how it manages its waste internally, using concrete data and drawing on waste industry experts to identify environmentally friendly solutions.

In 2015, Officeworks launched its first Positive Difference Plan, which set a five-year strategy and targets issues most pertinent to their stakeholders. The plan outlined goals to reduce the company’s environmental impact, sourcing products in sustainable and responsible ways and supporting the aspirations of its team and communities.

Four years into the 2020 plan, Officeworks has made significant progress against the targets, including reducing carbon emissions by 15 per cent.

As part of this, it is also working towards ensuring all paper products are either Forest Stewardship Council certified or made from 100 per cent recycled materials by December 2020.

The company follows the principles of the waste hierarchy, avoiding or reducing the amount of waste that is generated in the first place. From FY17 to FY18, it reduced its total waste generated from 6975 tonnes to 5764 tonnes. Of that, waste to landfill decreased from 2513 to 1405 tonnes.

Officeworks has also increased recycling rates from 64 per cent in FY17 to 81 per cent this financial year to date and is working towards a target to recycle 85 per cent by 30 June this year.

Ryan Swenson, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Officeworks, tells Waste Management Review that reducing the company’s environmental impact is a priority for the business, its team members and other stakeholders.

“Setting a long-term target to send zero waste to landfill, with milestones each year, enables us to establish a roadmap that demonstrates continuous improvement and to monitor our progress along the way,” he says.

To support its ambitious targets, Officeworks partnered with Cleanaway in 2017. The partnership allows Officeworks to provide detailed data and reporting to help its teams understand their progress against the targets.

Ryan says that Officeworks then looked at three areas where it could have the most influence: service schedules, infrastructure and behaviour change.

“By analysing the data, we made changes to the general waste collection schedules across selected stores from weekly to fortnightly.

“This drove an immediate change in behaviour as our teams needed to ensure they had enough room in their general waste bin to last the fortnight,” he says.

He says that Officeworks looked at its infrastructure to ensure its stores had the right bins in the right places based on their waste streams.

“Thirdly, we put some of our team members through a waste and recycling workshop to help drive behaviour change at their stores,” Ryan says.

Over the past six months, team members from selected stores have conducted their own waste audits by spending a day offsite sorting through their own general waste bin, and then completing a cause and effect workshop to understand how recyclable waste entered the general waste bin and how to avoid it in the future.

Ryan says that this has been critical to imbedding a culture of zero waste to landfill and demonstrate that individual actions add up to make a big difference.

“Some stores have now moved their general waste collection to an on-call service since they are generating such little waste.”

Throughout March, more than 70 of its sites recycled at least 85 per cent of their waste, with many passing the 90 per cent mark – a testament to what is possible with the right initiatives and leadership.

To increase recycling rates at its support office, Officeworks has over the years implemented new recycling streams such as coffee cup recycling, organic waste collection and soft plastics recycling.


Ryan says that one of the highlights of the Positive Difference Plan is seeing how passionate its team members are to make a positive difference in their workplace.

As with any waste strategy, some challenges have sprung up.

Ryan says that Officeworks has a number of stores that have ongoing issues with illegal dumping.

To help address this, stores have moved their general waste bins to smaller bins that can be more easily moved into their receiving area each night.

With secondary packaging being a key input, Officeworks is focused on reducing the material used by optimising packaging sizes. It is moving to reusable solutions where possible, such as transit pallets, and working with suppliers to ensure all packaging is easily recyclable by removing materials from its supply chain such as polystyrene.

Officeworks takes a holistic approach when considering the environmental impact of the products it sells, which includes how they are disposed of at their end of life.

Throughout FY18, the company collected almost 700 tonnes of e-waste from its customers, which included ink and toner cartridges, computers and accessories, printers and mobile phones.

It also this year launched its largest ever recycling station at its Mentone Store in Melbourne that comprises recycling options for batteries, pens and markers.

To help its customers recycle, Officeworks developed the Australasian Recycling Label with Planet Ark in 2015 and it now features on over 3000 ownlabel products.

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Officeworks to receive e-waste upgrades

Officeworks has received funding though the state governments $25.3 million Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund to upgrade e-waste collection facilities at 42 stores across Victoria.

The Officeworks sites will collect mobile phones, ink cartridges and IT waste items – forming part of a network of more than 1000 e-waste drop-off locations across the state.

Officeworks already operates as a drop-off point for mobile phone product stewardship scheme MobileMuster and the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program.

From 1 July 2019, any device with a power cord or battery will be prohibited from landfill.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the ban will ensure valuable materials left inside e-waste can be safely recovered and reused, while reducing the damage electronic items can have on the environment and human health.

“We’re making sure Victorian households know how to dispose of e-waste properly and easily ahead of the e-waste to landfill ban on 1 July.”

“It’s great to see businesses like Officeworks getting on board to ensure all Victorians to have a convenient drop-off point close to home.”

The state government has also invested $16.5 million to help councils across the state upgrade their e-waste collection and storage facilities, and deliver a public education program.

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