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A table is worth more than a pile of chip

I was standing in front of an enormous pile of wood at our Lower Compton facility in summer 2013. I saw chairs, tables and a crib jumbled up with scrap wood from building projects and dismantled kitchens. It was all destined to be pulverised and shipped to Germany to fuel a CHP plant.

I thought that this was a crime. This furniture could still have served a useful purpose in people’s lives.  A table is worth more than a pile of chip.

That day, my colleagues and I from Hills Waste Solutions decided that we would seek to reuse material sourced from our HWRCs. This is the waste hierarchy in action.

We started by speaking to local charities such as  Kennet Furniture Refurbiz who had been taking small quantities of washing machines and cookers from a few of our sites. We learned that they would be interested in taking more, if only it were possible.

Over the coming months, we spoke to a number of local charities and third sector organisations and together, we created a new enterprise called the Repair Academy (Repair Academy) which seeks to systematically remove reusable materials from Hills’ HWRCs to be repaired and resold. We sell directly through our partner charities, eBay and in auctions. 

The Repair Academy offers training and volunteering opportunities for young people who need help getting into the job markets (NEETS – Not in Education, Employment or Training) and volunteering opportunities for older people who want to give back to the community.

We are currently in pilot, working out of three HWRCs. We regularly turn around 50 white goods every week and hope to expand to another facility next year. We are also making regular sales of furniture and bric-a-brac.

We are still trying to find out what works and what doesn’t. White goods repairs are quite straight forward: we repair what we can and dismantle the rest for spare parts. We have a paint and sanding studio to repair furniture. Our most problematic area of sales is bric-a-brac: we simply cannot predict what we will get and what will sell. 

Hills’ HWRC staff divert materials from the sorting area. They are very enthusiastic about the project because they see first-hand how much reusable material is destined for recycling. 

We don’t work on a level playing field. Because the materials come from HWRCs, they are technically classified as waste and are therefore subject to the full gamut of regulations and paperwork. That’s a lot of extra work for our charity that similar charities who rely upon donations don’t have. This affects our ability to be competitive.

  • We are hosting a conference, Rethinking Reuse, 1 Fleet Place, on 10 December. Dan Rogerson will be the keynote speaker and others include Ed Mitchell from the Environment Agency and senior representatives from Defra, WRAP and the industry.

Andrea Pellegram is a freelance consultant, formerly Technical Services Manager at Hills.

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