Sustainability

FRN to issue guidance to LAs on how to work with reuse bodies

The Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) is to issue guidance to local authorities (LAs) on how they can work with the reuse sector to increase resource efficiency, boost social value, and reduce waste arisings.

The guidance is being developed following FRN’s annual conference last week, which celebrated the network’s 25th anniversary and heard Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles (pictured right) say the reuse sector was “too polite” in asking for what it wants.

Delivering the keynote speech at the conference held in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, on 13-14 March, Pickles stated that the reuse sector “is a proper lifeline for many people” and supporting the sector’s work is “common sense”. He told the audience: “You’re more adaptable than local authorities, but maybe you’re too polite – just say what you want and take it.”

He went on to outline how the sector must now demand that LAs work with the reuse sector to “take the weight off the state” and boost resource efficiency, as well as social profit.

Sir Stephen Bubb of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations(ACEVO) added that with public sector cuts there are opportunities for LAs looking for “more for less” and that they must recognise the added value of the sector’s work.

Indeed, FRN highlightedthat many LAs currently spend ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds per year on collecting and disposing of bulky waste’, but 30 per cent of it is reusable (with even more available for reuse if repaired) and could help ‘people in crisis’.

Guidance to local authorities

FRN identified that LA success in accessing reusable goods, providing bulky waste collections under contract and/or diverting waste from landfill at household waste recycling centres has been ‘extremely mixed’ for a number of reasons, including:

  • ‘ignorance’, of both the local authorities and furniture reuse organisations, about the potential to work with the sector on reuse/bulky waste collections and household waste recycling centre (HWRC) sites;
  • the fact that some councils think that as bulky waste represents a small percentage of the total waste handled by a waste disposal authority it ‘doesn’t warrant the effort’; and
  • a belief that no one knows ‘where to start or find the right solution for diverting reusable waste from landfill’.

As such, FRN is now looking to ‘demand access to more of the unwanted furniture and electrical items in the UK waste stream, and ensure that they can be supplied to the low-income and struggling families that need them’ by issuing guidance to LAs on how they can work more closely with the reuse sector.

Helen Middleton, Market Development Manager at FRN, said: “It’s okay for FRN to say that the reuse sector will start demanding reusable goods from the waste stream, but we need to help local authorities with the process in order to make it happen. We need to provide solutions rather than ask more questions or demand funding.

“To begin with, we invite local authorities to contact us. And it doesn’t need to be the environment or waste department. Our sector works with housing, revenue and benefits, regeneration and community liaison teams.”

She added that by working with LAs, FRN could: assess cases on an individual basis; research the capacity and capability of the local reuse partner(s); design a service that ‘suits both the challenge and the partners’; and ‘deliver a local solution that reduces waste, reduces costs, helps local families, provides employment and training opportunities, and supports your community’.

Indeed, FRN estimates that it has helped low-income families save around £350 million by providing them with reused furniture at low prices.

FRN represents over 300 furniture and electrical reuse charities across the UK and in 2012/13 helped reuse 2.7 million items of furniture and electrical equipment, diverting 110,000 tonnes of material from the waste stream.

Reuse has been gaining in prominence recently, with the Welsh arm of the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) calling on businesses and third-sector organisations to help develop a new Welsh reuse network, and ministers, businesses, and social enterprises calling on the UK government to develop a ‘Cross-Party Social Value Task Force’ to encourage social responsibility among service providers.

Read more about the Furniture Re-use Network.