Sustainability

Report suggests seven ‘practical’ solutions to bulky waste

Report suggests seven ‘practical’ solutions to bulk waste
The RSA Great Recovery project has released a report proposing ‘seven practical scenarios for redesigning our furniture systems and closing the loop on bulky waste’.

‘Rearranging the Furniture’, a report published today (10 September) by the Great Recovery in partnership with waste management company SUEZ, cites previous WRAP research stating that, of the 1.6 million tonnes of bulky waste produced in the UK each year, 32 per cent is completely reusable when dumped, rising to 51 per cent when slight repairs are performed.

Consequently, The Great Recovery, which is looking at the challenges of waste and the opportunities of a circular economy with a focus on design, is calling on manufacturers of the products that end up as ‘bulky waste’ (furniture, white goods and other household items) to take more responsibility regarding the ‘end-of-life scenario’ in their designs.

According to The Great Recovery, over 80 per cent of the environmental impact of everyday products is built-in at the design stage, and there is a need for furniture manufacturers to collaborate with reuse and recycling companies to improve the end-of-life implications of their designs.

This could be, it says, through receiving the goods back once the consumer is finished with them, contributing towards the cost of repair or recycling or by changing design to lengthen products’ lifecycles.

Seven ‘Future Scenarios for Furniture’

In response to the current lack of bulky waste reuse in the UK, the report recommends seven ‘early-stage scenarios and recommendations [that] will evolve through research and live testing as part of the shift to a circular economy’. These are:

1.     Fire safety labels
According to the report, fire labels on furniture are often removed by consumers due to their intrusive position, meaning that they cannot be reused. Changing the way that the labels are stitched or stamped to furniture could ‘dramatically reduce the number of sofas and chairs that end up in landfill sites across the UK’.

2.     Alternative futures and deconstruction manual
Given that people are ‘currently not aware of what happens to their furniture at the end of its life’, the report proposes ‘an on and off-line guide to alternative futures for furniture’, which would list reuse organisations, take-back schemes, repair and resale options, as well as specifying methods of deconstruction for material separation and recovery.

3.     Design for contract, rent and remanufacture
To develop a rental or service market, the report suggests that ‘manufacturers make use of monomaterial construction and design components for simple adaptation, disassembly, remanufacture and material recovery’, as well as developing relationships with dealers.

4.     ‘Own Art’ design services
The report proposes that the ‘Own Art’ initiative, which aims to make investing in art more possible through interest-free loans, be ‘extended to include design services such as reupholstering, bespoke design and direct sales of furniture’.

5.     Ingredients tags and provenance tracking
To better inform manufacturers, retailers, consumers and waste management companies about the materials and products they are handling, the report proposes that ‘different furniture items… carry barcoded labels, QR codes or simple written labelling with supply chain information’.

6.     Entrepreneurial logistics
The report suggests creating a more formalised system of bulky waste collection suggesting that: ‘Social media could be harnessed to created formalised reuse zones, combating fly-tipping and enabling value to be recovered.’

7.     Recertification pack
In another idea to counter the problem of removed fire tags, the report suggests that ‘recertification packs’ to test for fire safety (along the lines of a PAT test for electronic devices) could make it possible to conduct ‘swatch tests’ on soft furnishings and ‘train furniture reuse organisations and waste professionals to judge suitability for reuse’.

Attitudes to the waste hierarchy

The report suggests that the large amount of reusable waste going to landfill requires a change of attitude, warning that ‘if the UK’s wider system of waste, recycling and reuse is not designed to take account of the actual products and materials that flow through it’, changes to the design of products would not have enough of an effect.

The report states: ‘A keyboard designed for disassembly, for example, will still end up being shredded and put into the e-waste furnace unless a logical system has been designed to divert it out of the existing infrastructure’.

It goes on to suggest that the landfill tax be increased incrementally, with landfill eventually being banned for ‘bulky waste’, and that the tax be used to fund reuse collection and waste prevention services.

Local authorities should also change their attitudes, it says, from being ‘waste managers’ to being ‘resource returners’. One way suggested in the report for changing this is to offer incentives for site staff to sort and recover materials, and ‘to prioritise reuse over recycling through bonus schemes’.

Reuse brings social as well as environmental benefits

Commenting on the report, Head of Programme at The Great Recovery, Lucy Chamberlin said: “One man’s waste is another’s gold, and as we saw time and again it is people’s perceptions about what is or isn’t waste that effectively determines the fate of an object.

“Items that are no longer wanted by one person will still hold value for others so re-selling should be made as easy as possible. By increasing rates of reuse not only can we reduce the quantity of bulky items going to landfill and incineration, we can also increase social value by boosting employment and providing affordable essentials like sofas to those on low incomes.”

David Palmer-Jones, Chief Executive Officer of the Recycling and Recovery UK division of SUEZ, added: “Despite sitting above recycling in the waste hierarchy, reuse does not get nearly the same attention as recycling does. The opportunities to make more of the products we discard are huge – but it needs a concerted and coordinated push from product designers, policymakers and waste management service providers. 

“Our work with The Great Recovery team at the RSA shows that relatively minor changes in the way in which we design and handle our household products can make the difference between consigning a discarded item for disposal, or retrieving it and giving it a second life.” 

Adrian Collins, Project Manager, Kingston Community Furniture, said: “The biggest disappointment I face on a daily basis is the volume of upholstered furniture disposed of simply because it lacks a fire safety label.

“If these were attached in a more permanent, less obtrusive manner having due regard to the furniture being displayed in prime position in any number of homes, I estimate the disposal rate could be halved. Currently, the reuse sector faces a colossal amount of wasted product which could make a priceless difference to the quality of life of the less advantaged in our society.”

Read The Great Recovery’s ‘Rearranging the Furniture’ report.