Historically many people associated large items such as unwanted furniture, old mattresses and broken fridges with country lanes filled with illegally dumped waste. However, today there is a thriving secondary marketplace for bulky items through reuse, charitable donations, and upcycling, but has the sector done enough to help deal with the items at end of life?
Excess furniture that accumulates in offices due to relocations or downsizing, is usually offered to staff, or reuse charities. These actions often stem from an organisation’s Corporate Social Responsibility policy as well as cost mitigation.
Nationwide reuse organisations, such as The Reuse Network and Reyooz, provide sustainable solutions by collecting unwanted furniture before repairing it and selling it on. The resulting carbon saving is becoming increasingly more important as society aims to hit net zero.
WRAP has previously reported that if just one sofa is reused 10 kg CO2 equivalent is saved, and one table saves 23 kg CO2 equivalent! If these figures are multiplied across the consumer and business market for all bulky items, we start to see the scale of the opportunity.
The sad reality is that these items, even those reused, will reach a natural end of life and will need to be collected and recycled. Therefore, the Government has listed bulky waste in the Resources and Waste Strategy as a potential target area, alongside textiles, fishing gear, tyres, and construction waste, to tackle through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
Challenges and potential areas of focus
The first area of focus is bulky waste. This term covers a huge range of items and is generally described as any item that is over 25 kg that can’t fit in (and shouldn’t go in) household bins. Bulky waste covers anything from a mattress, wardrobe, fridge, sofa or even that lovely garden furniture that you just had to have, which you then left outside for years!
Bulky waste affects a range of sectors and producers and covers many different types of material. For other potential target areas recycling processes can be set up, or are already in place to handle, recycle and generate off-takers for the materials. However, bulky waste will need a much larger and varied recycling supply chain.
Many local authorities offer a chargeable ‘bulky waste’ collection service, alongside accepting the items at Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs). However, there is a challenge as people need to be willing or able to either pay for the service or get the item to the HWRC.
We are however seeing an increase in charity furniture collections where people pass on second-hand items which can be upcycled or sold on for donations, as well as the use of Facebook marketplace or Freecycle. This is an incredibly vibrant sector and should be encouraged more moving forwards.
If the options outlined above are not suitable, easily accessible, or available people will dump bulky waste items, which costs the council, taxpayers, and the environment.
Tackling the issues through Extended Producer Responsibility
Issues associated with bulky waste can be tackled through EPR in the following ways:
- Acknowledgement and funding support for the reuse sector
- Funding for the recycling aspect of bulky waste, with less onus on recovery
- Improve the collection and take back from producers
- Help fund local authority bulky waste collection, to reduce the burden on the consumer
- Ultimately create a system so there is no need to fly tip bulky items and ensure severe punishment for those who are criminally doing so
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