Warp It was born out of a conviction that, given the right tools, assets can easily be reused, with both giver and receiver benefiting equally.
So far, the online reuse platform has helped our customers give 521 tonnes of material a second life, saving more than £3.64m in waste disposal and procurement costs and 1,550 tonnes in CO2 equivalent.
The system works exactly like more familiar trading platforms such as eBay: users sign up and exchange unwanted goods. We also provide automatic feedback on a range of metrics from waste diverted to procurement savings.
Take-up has been so fast that, by the end of the first year, 2011, seven customers had been recruited, including St Andrews University, Newcastle City Council and Northumberland County Council. By the following year, another 20 had signed up. Now, 120 public sector organisations are served, including half the country’s university campuses, thousands of charities and tens of thousands of schools. Charity donations made in kind recently topped £400,000.
Despite its fast development, Warp It has been a long time brewing. Recycling and reuse are in the blood: my great-grandfather was a rag-and-bone man and I was brought up on tales of my father being sent to collect strands of sheep wool to be washed and baled for sale. When I started work as a council waste manager, I was appalled by the quantities of usable products finding their way into skips. So I set up a mail base that allowed charities to benefit from surplus assets.
I introduced the same system following a move to Newcastle University as waste manager, but a chance encounter highlighted the issues facing staff and convinced me that more needed to be done.
I had already chanced across frustrated technical staff spending time clearing unwanted furniture from buildings instead of performing the tasks they were employed to undertake. But the penny dropped after I was called on to find homes for 70 operator chairs from a building clear-out. Two days later, 30 new chairs were delivered to a different team in the same building. At that moment, I realised that if people cannot even collaborate internally, then what was needed was an automatic system that matches needs and wants – something that was easier than buying new and simpler than hiring a skip.
With the concept in place, I set about finding someone who could build it. From that moment, my annual leave days were taken up with waste audits and consultancy contracts to raise capital for the project. By 2011, with the help of funding from Newcastle Science City, the platform was up and running.
In the early days there was undoubtedly an element of risk on the part of customers – we were a new and untested company, after all – but the results quickly spoke for themselves.
The University of Strathclyde, for example, saved £100,000 in procurement costs in just seven months. New clients are offered a guarantee that Warp It will save them at least five times the investment, and our client list is growing all the time.
This year we signed our largest contract yet, a national agreement with NHS Scotland, whose estate employs 17,000 people, we are expanding into the US market, and one university in Australia has signed up.
People often ask why I am so focused on reuse and the simple answer is that recycling is simply inefficient. It is getting better, but still distracts from reuse. The big difference is that each time you trade an asset, it delays the manufacture of a new one and affects on the carbon implications of manufacture. Supply chain waste is another big issue – when the chair you are sitting on now was produced, for example, it generated 90 times its weight in supply chain waste.
Generally, people are becoming more aware of these issues and the role that reuse can play. We deal with staff from sustainability, facilities management (FM), and procurement departments, and each has an issue that a system like ours can solve. FM people want to reduce double handling and free up storage space; sustainability staff want to promote reuse and the platform helps with their reporting; and procurement is looking for cost savings.
Reuse is slowly becoming mainstream. Give it another two years and, hopefully, most organisations will be thinking about reuse rather than disposal.
How Warp IT works
The brains behind eBay, ‘the world’s online marketplace’, know that to succeed in the trading of used goods, you need a sizeable member network and foolproof system. Warp It is exactly the same. In fact, founder Daniel O’Connor says: “If you’ve ever used eBay, then finding your way around Warp It will be second nature.”
Build the network
Once an organisation has signed up to the platform, all it needs to do is attract members. Some do this through email communications campaigns, others stipulate that staff must check Warp It before ordering new items. New members agree to abide by the terms and conditions of the site then, when they have unwanted items to share, they list the details online.
The web platform is accessible from every computer, so all staff can view available articles, from desks and chairs to inkjet cartridges, laser pointers and binders. Collectors take delivery of smaller items, while estate staff may assist with larger furniture.
If items remain unclaimed for some time, charity and school partners are invited to claim them. Many Warp It customers like to extend the network to include other members in the region – the larger the network, the greater the chance of re-homing redundant items.
Law and order
Protecting members from potential litigation is crucial; a great deal of time and legal expertise has therefore gone into developing bespoke terms and conditions. For example, members agree not to misuse items and/or redirect them to third parties. Organisations are welcome to adapt legal terms to their own specifications, but Warp It’s own legal framework is robust enough to cover all eventualities.
Reap the rewards
Once your network is in place, just keep communicating with staff to keep momentum up, and you will have your own reuse marketplace.
Daniel O’Connor is founder of online reuse platform Warp It