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Half of UK's bulky could be kept out of landfill

Up to half of the UK’s 1.6m tonnes of bulky waste including sofas and white goods which ends up in landfill could be reused through simple labelling and product design changes, according to a new study by the RSA.

The Suez-sponsored study titled Rearranging the Furniture found that recycling companies are forced to throw away up to 800,000 tonnes of furniture rather than find them a new home due to regulation fire labels which have been cut off by their previous owners.

The study found that 80% of the environmental impact of products we use every day is built in at the concept design stage, with up to 32% of products actually deemed completely reusable.

The UK currently recycles 42% of the 200 million tonnes of waste it generates each year, although the report concluded that the emphasis on recycling neglects to focus adequately on the potential for increased resource efficiency through reuse.

According to figures released by WRAP, approximately 42% of bulky waste is furniture, with the rest mostly textile (19% including mattresses) or electrical or electronic (19%). Thirty two per cent of bulky waste is reusable in its current state and this figure rises to 51% if items requiring slight repair are taken into account.

Suez UK’s chief executive David Palmer-Jones said: “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.”

Chief executive of the Furniture Re-use Network Craig Anderson said: “We’ve all seen, heard or read about those few really good and impactful reuse activities at waste sites but I often wonder what’s stopping all local authorities working on reuse. Authorities who hold the keys to the gates to grant access to reusable furniture are guided and restrained by recycling markets and targets, when we need them involved the reuse chain.

“One question that has been put to me recently is whether local authorities need to be involved in reuse and waste prevention at all. So when asked if waste prevention could be the sole responsibility of civil society and communities – I’d say, possibly, but not for free. We cannot subsidise reforms in the waste sector as well as welfare cuts.

“We need to explore the benefits of reuse and its savings to the public purse – and give guidance, as we have here with this report, to create the initiative.”

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