The Defit Dilemma: What Happens to Furnishings and Fittings?

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015
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Every year, office defit teams send thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good furnishings and fittings to landfill – and the landfills are rapidly reaching full capacity.

As a result, city councils are urgently looking for ways to reduce waste. With the commercial and industrial sectors contributing substantially to a city’s total waste generation (almost 50 per cent in the case of the City of Sydney), businesses are in a position to significantly reduce the amount of waste material ending up in landfill.

Office furniture and fittings play a huge role when it comes to waste. According to research from the Institute for Sustainable Futures, the average age of a fitout at the time of its removal ranges from five to 15 years, in line with standard lease periods. One report mentioned in the research estimates that a 1,000 square metre office refurbishment “is likely to generate an average of 130 cubic metres of waste.”

Unfortunately, sending materials to landfill is typically the cheapest and most convenient option for many, which just perpetuates the problem of wastage. An estimated 450,000 tonnes of mixed construction and demolition waste materials was sent to landfill in the wider Sydney metropolitan area in 2004 – and that was a decade ago.

Since then, many solutions to the problem of office defit waste have come about, such as product stewardship and take back schemes, recycling schemes, and even just ensuring that end of life is accounted for right from the start when a product is first designed. The challenge lies in encouraging more people to make use of them.

Under product stewardship take back schemes, environmentally-aware manufacturers will freely accept their products back when they reach the end of their useful lives and recycle them, or take care of responsible disposal on the customer’s behalf. Depending on the product (and the nature of the scheme in place), old materials may be recycled into new products, or they may be reclaimed as raw materials for reuse in a variety of industries. Many ecolabelled products will participate in take back schemes – for example, having a product stewardship plan in place is a requirement for certification like with Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA).

Recycling schemes are also becoming increasingly popular. Not tied to any specific manufacturer, schemes such as Planet Ark’s Business Recycling put businesses in touch with local companies who will take their old materials away without sending them straight to landfill.

Furniture is one of the biggest concerns for many office defit teams. Workstations in particular can be a challenge, as they may be difficult or costly to disassemble and transport, making them hard to get rid of even if they are still in good condition. These problems can be avoided if furniture designers take product end-of-life into account right from the start of the design process, creating products that are easy to separate into recyclable components, and easy to repair if one part fails.

Designers also have a responsibility to find imaginative ways to reconfigure and incorporate components from existing fitouts in new, innovative ways to save money for their clients and divert potentially expensive materials from going into landfill. Reusing carpet floor tiles in new designs or ancillary areas, or reupholstering expensive commercial office furniture, are two simple solutions.

The resources are there to prevent perfectly good furniture and fittings from ending up in landfill and give them a new lease on life. Those involved in an office defit should consider investigating whether product take back schemes can be utilised, making use of recycling schemes both for product disposal and sourcing, and challenging the perception that second-hand materials are poor quality or not aesthetically pleasing enough.

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