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How Finsbury Green got to zero waste

When Finsbury Green’s Sustainability Committee first raised  the idea of targeting zero waste to landfill, despite having many  robust recycling systems in place, most staff thought is was a  goal too difficult to achieve.

While many manufacturers were actively involved in waste minimisation programs, for Finsbury Green, primarily a national printer at the time, ‘zero’ was a huge leap of faith.

The committee’s objectives were three-fold and all about less is more. Reduce the CO2 generated from decomposing waste in landfills that contribute to greenhouses gas emissions*, reduce the handling of waste items to become more efficient, as well as reduce the burgeoning costs to dispose of waste.

That was 2006, but a steady 30% decrease each year on year meant that by 2015 the goal was successfully achieved and has remained that way since.

Zero waste is a significant achievement for any industry.

In practice across five sites
At the time, Finsbury Green was recycling the high grade paper used in commercial print, cardboard packaging, hard and soft plastic and offset aluminium printing plates.

But for many other wastes it was very difficult to find recyclers that would take the materials, let alone recycle it. We quickly found that separating this waste at the source made it much easier to convince them.

Quietly and methodically our teams established systems internally to separate and recycle or reuse a wide range of materials, and replicated them across all sites. Waste is divided into nine different categories or ‘streams’ including aluminium, cardboard, e-waste, food, glass, paper, plastic, steel and metal, and timber, each with its own process.

They then organised specific recycling companies and negotiated arrangements for regular pickups to take away the materials, which led to an annual audit of all waste streams and providers, ensuring waste is going where intended.

Today, Finsbury Green derives a revenue from many of these waste streams, also ensuring they are put to good use.

Staff education was also an important and ongoing program in the quest for ‘zero’. The secret to a successful internal program is to make recycling as simple and as easy as possible. This means well labelled bins and containers, good signage and clear guidelines for what goes where. While this sounds straightforward each year we have to modify these practices to conform with ever-changing needs.

Without our staff’s buy in and participation in our programs achieving zero would not have been possible, so a large part of our success has been due  to them.

Working with our suppliers to reduce the amount of waste coming into the company in the form of packaging was also a significant project as often they are large organisations who were not able to necessarily change as quickly as they or we would like.

Reducing the amount  that we have to handle  in the first place has  been a windfall for our ‘zero’ target.

Prior to the installation of ink pumps in 2006 in our plants, all ink was decanted from tins and plastic tubs resulting in a huge amount of waste to manage. Since that time ink pumps deliver 80% of our ink usage from 200 litre drums direct to the presses, not only resulting in a huge reduction of ink waste and cost, but the manual handling of tins. Today the drums are returned for refilling by the ink supplier.

In our print management divisions from time to time customers’ materials become redundant which requires us to remove and dispose of them from our warehouses. While the wastage itself is unfortunate, our customers are aware of our ‘zero waste’ policy and are happy for us to guarantee the materials are not dumped. T-shirts to leather, Perspex to polypropylene, bar stools to pirate hats, everything is reusable or recyclable.

That’s just a few examples of the many challenges along the way to achieving and maintaining zero.

Everyone at Finsbury Green is in sync with our ‘zero waste’ plan from cleaners, staff, suppliers and recyclers, but that is our way. Challenging ourselves to achieve difficult targets has led to our enviable reputation for sustainable practice.

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