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Recognise importance of reuse to resolve bulky waste problem

Reuse has normally been viewed as the Cinderella of the waste hierarchy, said London Community Recycling Network (LCRN), a London-based sustainable community based charity, chief executive Matthew Thomson. 
 
But theres hope in the form of a new report entitled Third sector reuse capacity in London that a prince will rescue this Cinderella. This is the first comprehensive study into the work of charities, social enterprises and community groups providing reuse facilities in London. The research identified 61 third sector reuse organisations handling 4,000 tonnes of household items per year in the capital.

The third sector comprises a wide range of organisations including voluntary and community groups and charities.
 
The study was funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and commissioned by a partnership of representatives which included the Greater London Authority, London councils and the North London Waste Authority.
 
It found the amount of bulky waste that has been diverted to reuse projects has increased by 73% in three years while the total financial turnover of the core reuse organisations has increased by £1 million in the past year.
 
Around 1.7 million reusable items are discarded in London each year, of which 170,000 are  collected. The third sector believes it can work with councils to help increase the number of items collected for reuse.
 
So why have both reduce and recycle been getting all the attention? 
 
Thomson says reuse is neglected because there is no statutory imperative to recognise it. However, national performance indicators launched in April 2008 by the Audit Commission mean local authorities now have a duty to promote reuse. The Waste Strategy and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive have also encouraged reuse.
 
One of the recommendations of the research is to reconfigure all local authority bulky waste services to maximise reuse and recycling. Bulky waste comprises household items such as fridges, furniture, freezers and cookers.
 
Thomson explained: We need to change the naming of bulky waste services to bulky reuse services. By calling it bulky waste people assume their items will be taken to waste and not reused. What happens at the moment is somebody will phone their council to pick up an item and that item then gets left in the rain for a few days. That product may then not be in good shape to reuse.
 
Items can also be damaged during transport. Thomson added: We need a cultural change in the waste organisation. Local authorities need to train everybody from their collection staff to their disposal staff to make sure they understand the value of reuse.
 
This is not a quick fix solution it may take at least two or three years to achieve the change.
 
The report also recommends  third sector organisations work with recycling centres to expand facilities for the public to drop off  items for reuse. It says that links should be strengthened between social services and recycling and reuse services to share ideas and develop reuse services.
 
The Furniture Reuse Network is a national body which supports charitable reuse organisations across the UK. It works with local authorities to collect reusable items and sells them to people on low incomes at low prices. It has also linked up with retailers such as Dixons, Homebase and Argos to obtain furniture that has been returned or is slightly damaged. 
 
Chief executive Paul Smith said charities could help councils with bulky waste collections by arranging pick up times with residents. He explained that charities could set up base at civic amenity sites where items could be stored. 
 
He said: It is a good way for the public to put their fears at rest about what happens to their items when they put them out. Some are sceptical about what happens to those items.
 
Smith acknowledged that half of items that are sent for reuse are unusable because they are broken when thrown out by households. He also said that because London was a high value place some reuse charities have found it difficult to set up  operations because of high property prices and the congestion charge affecting collection vans.
 
The report highlighted a need to publicise the reuse items that third sector organisations collect. Thomson said he expected an  increasing focus on reuse: Our over-consumption culture relies on people buying new things.

But we are entering a time of increasing austerity and attention is being paid to reuse now.
We need London leaders to agree that reuse is important and to make money available from the London Waste Recycling Board. We need to market reuse intelligently to make systems for managing reusable items robust.

Image: Croydon ARC appliance reuse

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