Sustainability in Business

Vicinity Centres’ waste management strategy

Retail property firm Vicinity Centres is taking great strides towards diverting more materials away from landfill, with bold plans across food waste and decentralised resource recovery.

A decade ago it would have been an unusual occurrence for a $16.1 billion retail property ownership firm to own and run its own materials recovery facility.  

Australia’s Vicinity Centres is part of a growing list of companies taking additional steps to divert their own materials away from landfill. 

The firm, which employs more than 1300 nationwide and operates more than 60 shopping centres, has been focused on better waste management practices. Part of its plans are investments across various centres in anaerobic digesters, food macerators and weighing systems, to name a few areas. This laser focus on resource recovery has seen its landfill diversion rate move from 36 to 43 per cent within the past year. 

The strategy includes working closely with its waste management partners Cleanaway and Veolia. Its efforts across sustainability, including water and energy savings, even saw it ranked the third most sustainable property company globally in 2018, according to the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices – an assessor of real asset performance. 

Plans for the business are now keeping a close eye on the waste management market and look at new investments. Each centre has a clear energy and waste action plan, allowing it to make a contribution to Vicinity’s broader diversion goals.

Nick Irvine, Vicinity Centres General Manager National Operations, says two years ago Vicinity invested in building a data team to establish a data lake to enable reporting on its waste generation each month. The process allowed Vicinity to see the top 10 centres of excellence and the bottom 10, allowing it to work with centre managers and retailers to understand why more waste was being generated and develop a solution. 

As an initial step into improving its data quality, Vicinity invested in a SmartWeigh System from Wastech Engineering. The system allows all retailers to have an access card that records the date, time and weight of the waste when used to access the packer. It also provides data reports identifying high-waste-producing tenants, which can be generated on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. 

According to Nick, one of the proudest moments in the centre’s landfill diversion history was the development of a materials recovery facility (MRF) at Chatswood Chase Sydney. 

Launched in late 2017, the innovative recycling system has the capability of saving an additional 695 tonnes of waste from landfill each year. As a result of the setup, Chatswood Chase set a bold 90 per cent diversion waste target by the end of the 2020 financial year. The MRF system engages retailers with specific bins for different items such as paper, plastic and organics. The waste is then taken to the waste dock where it is bundled, sorted and processed onsite. 

Nick says that the diversion rate was for some time hovering at 54 per cent, but since the last financial year has already moved into the high 70s. 

“Our focus at Chatswood Chase Sydney is to push past 90 per cent by financial year 2020. As a first in Australia, it is something that we’re learning about because we’ve had to help our retailers, but it’s certainly improved our waste management dramatically,” he says. 

He says the monumental occasion could mark a push towards a more decentralised model where the centre manages its own waste, rather than relying on external businesses.

“The cost of landfill is a fixed cost. It’s not going anywhere so it’s about how we get smarter. We’re now looking at how we divert organics, because that’s the easiest one for us. How can we convert our waste into bioenergy and produce income for the centre?”

Nick adds that Vicinity has been investigating mobile bioenergy plants prevalent overseas to replace some compactors. “The main purpose would be to try and identify where we could introduce it because retrofitting costs a lot more than building into the design, so we’re trying to work through new developments.

“We’ve been talking with some of the teams such as at The Glen about what we can do and how they can design their loading docks and their waste areas, so that they’re suitable for it.”

With food waste being a priority for Vicinity, ORCA anaerobic digesters were installed at Chatswood Chase and Bankstown Central. The Pulpmaster is another piece of equipment being used to process food and is a macerator installed at 18 centres, with another 10 planned for other facilities. 

“Our strategy is that where appropriate, every centre will have a Pulpmaster installed.”

Nick adds that the centres collectively produce more than 7500 tonnes of organics per annum. 

The biggest waste generators at the centres are the retailers, Nick says, which is why waste educational programs, including videos in the loading dock, have been introduced at a number of centres. 

“Our challenge is our retailers and the staff within it aren’t necessarily static. A lot of them can be casuals or part-timers so it’s important for us to keep managing education. But what’s really exciting for us is that we’ve recently had national retailers approach us asking how they can help, because they have their own sustainability objectives.” 

At a customer service level, Vicinity ramped up recycling awareness at Melbourne’s DFO South Wharf with a bin installed at the centre for customers to throw out their old shoes after purchasing new ones, with the pre-worn pairs donated to those in need. 

With China’s National Sword and Queensland’s waste levy scheduled for 1 July, Nick says market signals are increasingly becoming skewed towards resource recovery. 

“In NSW, we’re looking at a material recovery facilities at our three new assets up in the Sydney central business district – the Queen Victoria building, The Galeries and The Strand Arcade – so that’s a big one. We’re certainly targeting something at Chadstone because of the sheer volume.”

Nick says that sustainability is becoming a critical part of operations, with investors even inquiring about Vicinity’s policies.

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