The government’s latest recycling cash boost of £750m will go a long way to help solve the UK’s waste crisis. But Hugh Carr-Harris, chief executive of London Remade, a public/private initiative to promote markets for recycled products, is not convinced. He says that the government’s waste strategy will fail unless more is done to develop markets for recycled products. Carr-Harris warns that the £14.5m allocated to WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) for market development is not nearly enough, and that unless businesses buy back recycled products and close the loop, efforts to increase collections will be futile. He should know — the Mayor’s Green Procurement Code, which is run by London Remade, has just had its 200th signatory.

The Green Procurement Code

The code was launched in June 2001 to give those

organisations wanting to adopt a more sustainable purchasing policy, a starting point. Under the initiative, London Remade provides a free brokerage service to firms looking to source recycled product alternatives.

Leading companies involved include BP, British Airways, Ford Motor Company, GlaxoSmithKline, Legal & General, Barclays Bank, and Sainsbury’s. All the capital’s local authorities, bar three, have also signed up.

As a result, more than 1,000t of recycled products, ranging from recycled print cartridges to recycled construction materials, have been purchased. London Remade does not yet have exact figures on the tonnage and type of recycled material bought, but an audit of the 200 companies signed up to the code is currently being carried out and figures will be published later this month.

As companies begin to realise the environmental, social and economic benefits of green procurement, other regions around the UK have contacted London Remade about developing green procurement codes for their area.

The code is attractive because it helps businesses understand what a green procurement policy involves. It also gives companies impetus to get started, as well as

encouragement to continue buying green once the novelty has worn off.

Getting a policy together

A green procurement policy doesn’t need to be complicated. Jon Rolls, environmental consultant for Wastebusters, defines it as simply a commitment to reducing environmental impacts by identifying and reducing the

environmental impacts of the products purchased by that organisation.

Putting a green procurement policy in place means rethinking purchasing strategies and considering all the options before buying. It should evaluate the operational, waste disposal and life cycle costs that are normally overlooked when buying a product.

“A green procurement policy should examine solid waste arisings from products and services, and reduce, reuse, recycle as much as possible,” says Rolls.

“Think whether you really need to make a purchase and if so, see if it can be made from recycled materials or buy products that can be recycled.”

More companies now realise the benefits of buying recycled, as in the past few years the quality of recycled products has improved and costs have decreased. While some recycled products are still more expensive in cash terms, they are often on a par if life cycle costs are included.

But the savings are not just environmental and financial. “Companies will also gain improved reputation through use of environmental products and staff motivation will be increased,” says Roll.

If you are not sure where to start, you could take some advice from Steve Creed, director of business and procurement programmes at WRAP. “Companies interested in buying recycled products should start by asking their suppliers for a quote,” he advises. “Tell the supplier you want prices for recycled and virgin office paper. If you ask them to give comparisons they have to be more careful – companies don’t want to price themselves out of the market.”

Setting an example

Business and construction services company Carillion has signed up to the Green Procurement Code and for the past three years has produced a

sustainability report.

Doug Janikiewicz, Carillion’s environmental advisor, says: “There is no point in recycling as much as you can, if you don’t buy back recycled products. Unless you buy green, your

sustainability strategy is a bit of a dead duck.”

Carillion now has a preferred supplier list that includes those who have scored high points based on criteria that includes health and safety, quality, cost and environmental policy.

“At the moment we are drawing up a restricted products list with products that are environmentally damaging,” says Janikiewicz. “We are working with manufacturers to try and phase out some of the products.”

Carillion also favours local suppliers and the company’s procurement team gets environmental awareness training. The company is currently using recycled plastic manhole covers in place of concrete in the construction of the Nottingham tram system.

Thinking ahead

Carillion has made it easier for its procurement team to buy recycled, but it is also a good idea to go back to basics when buying recycled, as Creed explains.

“You need to consider what you want to use the product for when you write your specification. You should take care not to lapse into a technical definition – what it is needed for is a fitness for purpose approach. Some recycled products don’t meet the same technical specifications as virgin products, but meet the same fitness for purpose.”

When buying signposts for example, it is important to specify the purpose of the signpost, not its technical specification, as this would make it difficult for a company to buy recycled plastic signpost instead of a metal one. “It might be cheaper initially but it would have to be painted every three years making it more expensive,” says Creed. “The plastic signpost will stay green for the whole of its life.”

Adam Reed, waste consultant for ERM, says: “Rather than buying products made from seven materials which are difficult to deconstruct, buy a product with two materials that is simple to dismantle and can be recycled.”

When awarding large contracts, Creed suggests that you stipulate in the tender that, for example, 10% of products by value have to be recycled – this puts the onus on the supplier to come up with more innovative and competitive solutions.

Greening government

WRAP has been working with the government to improve its green procurement policy. Public sector purchasing has been estimated at around 14% of EU gross domestic product and therefore has considerable potential to expand the market for recycled materials.

Therefore, the government’s action on green procurement is vital to stimulate the market in recycled goods. But its progress has been mixed. In 2000, the government signed up to commitments on timber, recycled paper and renewable energy. Renewable energy purchasing has been successfully carried out because energy purchasing is usually carried out by small centralised teams that knew about the policy.

However, the 2002 Sustainable Development in Government report showed that timber and paper procurement strategies were much more troublesome.

Government pledges to buy timber from sustainable sources have proved difficult to implement because of the convoluted nature of the timber supply chain – only two departments reported using the recycled paper contract that had been set up. This is due to the fact that paper purchasing is carried out by junior staff across government and the report concluded that it is extremely difficult under these circumstances to ensure that all staff are aware of the commitment. The 2002 report also noted a “perception of conflict between achieving value for money and “green” procurement”.

So, with much to do, the government launched its major commitment to sustainability, The Framework for Sustainable Development on the Government Estate, last July. A cross-government committee, the Sustainable Procurement Group, has sought advice from WRAP on increasing the purchasing of recycled products across government and will make its recommendations soon.

This will hopefully point the way to significant improvements in the purchasing of recycled products throughout the public sector, which is desperately needed to make green procurement and recycling an achievable and desirable goal for all organisations.

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