Having spent much of 2015 on maternity leave, I returned to Resource Futures hoping to see significant advances in the reuse sector. But this was not the case as the activities, importance and challenges faced by reuse organisations are much the same.
In some instances the outlook is worse: job losses within councils mean that where reuse was once championed, the slimmed down teams are focusing elsewhere. Reuse is once again taking a back seat to recycling.
But all is not a backwards step. There is much that reuse can contribute to commercial growth and the circular economy with added socio-environmental benefits.
England has seen a focus on reuse from household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) and bulky waste collections through the work of WRAP. Much of its work has been on providing guidance, case studies and supporting information to allow councils to self-assess their service. Best practice from those that already have successful reuse services has also been shared, as well as a raft of information on its Household Waste Prevention Hub to help simplify the journey.
Defra’s Innovation in Waste Prevention Fund has funded 16 projects in the past 12 months and we expect the outcomes to be published in 2016. Having the opportunity to build on the success of others will be important for those trying to make the most of expected budget decreases in the future.
There are still opportunities for local innovation, whether it is for councils to work across departments, with universities or social landlords. Local communications campaigns can be a great way to kick-start reuse activity without significant operational changes.
The RSA published its report The Great Recovery – Rearranging the Furniture in 2015 along with a series of short videos following the reuse journey of a sofa. The report confirmed what many in the reuse sector already knew, but it was exciting to see different players entering the debate with the ability to influence and leverage change.
Defra and the Environment Agency, along with a host of experts, are looking at the end-of-waste debate and how clearer definitions can support more reuse, particularly at HWRCs. This sort of clarity is needed to support the action being taken on the ground and give guidance around grey areas.
The Scottish Government has recently consulted on proposals for a circular economy (CE) in its Making Things Last consultation paper. There are real ambitions for reuse to become mainstream. As part of the proposals, it is looking to build on the Revolve standard for reuse organisations; clarify the regulation of reuse activities; improve the capture of items for reuse; and explore reuse opportunities in key industrial sectors.
As well as industrial reuse ambitions, the Scottish Government is specifically looking to increase reuse and recycling of tyres, furniture and mattresses. In 2015 Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) launched an innovative upcycling campaign on social media using the Design Doctors to inspire householders to upcycle furniture and share the skills needed to do it themselves. ZWS and Rethink Waste in Northern Ireland have provided funding to increase reuse, providing capital to allow the voluntary sector to do more of what they do best and for councils to increase reuse at their HWRCs. A HWRC in Derry will soon benefit from repair activities as well as reuse.
There is also exciting potential in Wales. Liz Goodwin, WRAP chief executive, believes the country has the potential to become the “first truly circular economy”, and the Government’s funding pot has been significantly increased. While there is some emphasis on food waste, other areas of focus are textiles and WEEE, and so reuse is likely to be a key part of the Wales Resource Management Programme.
There are real opportunities for increasing resource efficiency and creating jobs in the CE in Northern Ireland too, as a recent report by the Resource innovation Network for European Waste project shows.
So there is real progress being made, but true change needs to be driven by the consumer. Grassroots activities such as repair cafés are growing all the time but we have a way to go before it is mainstream.
Resource Futures has seen the launch of Bristol Re-Use, a grassroots- led organisation borne out of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and funding from Bristol 2015. Community RePaint continues to increase reuse volumes, while our Community Action Groups deliver a unique programme of events across Oxfordshire.
So it seems that reuse has not disappeared completely but has become obscured in the race to meet public sector cuts. Grass roots-led economic development has the tendency to persist no matter what the conditions are, and this is the case for reuse. We need to build on this, with or without central Government input.
Emma Clarke is senior consultant at Resource Futures