It was a ‘lightbulb moment’ that led to Phil Robinson, managing director of Jem Recycling Group, to set up a manufacturing facility for soft furnishings.
It uses textile waste offcuts that had been going to landfill to make a range of patchwork products such as beanbags.
A contract with Westbridge Furniture to manage its waste included the disposal of 300 tonnes a year of fabric offcuts from its cutting rooms. Robinson realised there was a better way to handle the waste stream – and an opportunity because the fabrics being disposed of were of high quality, destined for furniture to be sold by big-name UK retailers.
“I thought that we should make stuff out of the offcuts,” he says, “so we started with beanbags and developed into throws and cushions, and next will be footstools and ottomans.”
Jem set up a manufacturing operation in Runcorn, creating six jobs in the process, which takes the textile waste, which it receives for free, and turns it into a range of patchwork soft furnishing items. So far, it has used only a small proportion of the offcuts available, around 20 tonnes, with the remainder going to refuse-derived fuel rather than landfill. It had sold around 400 products at the time of writing.
The soft furnishing range, branded Patch, is marketed as a recycled product that is handmade in the UK. It is a solution that diverts waste from landfill, saves the waste generator in disposal costs and adds a new revenue stream for Jem. It has also been a helpful publicity generator for the recycler, leading to approaches from other furniture manufacturers to handle their waste, as well as parties interested in acting as sales agents for the Patch range.
“We think it is unique – I don’t know of any waste company that is actually making stuff,” says Robinson. Westbridge, which Jem has a three-year contract with, is also thrilled because of the savings it reaps in disposal costs.
“The more we start to sell, the more products we can produce, and the more waste we can use, which will reduce [the client’s] waste disposal costs,” adds Robinson. “That will reduce the value of our contract, but I am quite happy with that because it gives me supply chain sustainability for our products. No-one has ever done this for [my waste client] before.
“We look at waste differently to a lot of waste companies because we try to see products rather than waste.
Jem Recycling Group, which Robinson set up in 2013, has clients mainly in the manufacturing and distribution sectors. It does not have a sorting facility or any collection vehicles at present, but plans to buy a truck. It operates like a facilities company, and supplies staff to sort waste at clients’ premises, bale cardboard, plastic, manage wood waste, and so on. The focus is on recycling, with only small amounts going to energy from waste or landfill. It also supplies cleaning staff.
The business tries to create a ‘one-stop shop’ for clients so they only need to make one phone call for a range of services: “If we don’t actually do it ourselves we will contract it, but it saves the client that amount of time and effort to employ us to do it.”
The designs and ideas for the Patch range have been devised in-house, and Robinson says his waste clients have been very supportive, even introducing him to some of their customers who have then bought the Patch products.
Now that the initial outlay has been spent on setting up the Runcorn facility, the focus will be on increasing sales. It is selling the products through retailers including Ponsford Furniture, Bella Chic and Taskers as well as online. There are plans to open a factory shop at its site.
To fund the fit-out at Runcorn, Jem raised an investment package totalling just over £160,000, which included £100,000 from Merseyside Special Investment Fund through funds it manages for the Regional Growth Fund and the North West Fund for Micro Loans, together with the company’s own investment and asset finance.
Robinson adds: “Everybody loves the story. We could possibly be the only waste management company in the world that manufactures patchwork beanbags – stuff out of waste.”