Renewing hope

Recycling your old office equipment does more than just save on landfill tax. Flemmich Webb looks at the benefits of being green

You walk into the office and notice that the décor looks old, shabby and a little '90s. Time for a change you think, buy new furniture and chuck out the old stuff. But where is that old furniture going to end up?

If it's on its way to landfill, you're missing out on an easy way to improve your green credentials and provide jobs for the socially disadvantaged. There are a growing number of organisations that refurbish and recycle office equipment.

Social impacts

The not-for-profit company Green-Works, based in London and Portsmouth, has diverted 2,080t of office furniture from landfill since June 2000. It currently takes 300-500t/month and at least 71% is redistributed or recycled.

Once furniture arrives at one of the company's warehouses, it is refurbished or broken up for recycling by the 36 strong-workforce (fulltime, part-time and volunteers). The workers are long-term unemployed and physically disabled. Through Green-Works, they learn skills they can use in the wider employment market. At the moment there are 25 companies paying the annual membership fee, which entitles them to at-cost collections throughout the year. At the moment, the cost is 10-15% dearer than landfill.

But as a company spokesperson from HSBC, which recently donated 3,000t of office furniture to Green-Works, explains, the benefits of the partnership outweigh the extra cost. "It's not just about economics," she says. "Donating to Green-Works fulfils the company's environmental and social objectives."

Green-Works' chief executive Colin Crooks adds: "We are adding value because we offer a one-stop shop for a company's entire clearance and in return create a positive PR opportunity for the donor." Green-Works now plans to expand into every city in the UK and is currently applying to the DTI for funding. It is also looking at recycling items such as electrical items and carpet tiles.

Computers for schools

IT is another huge waste stream flowing into landfill, as companies constantly upgrade their technology. With the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive on the horizon and landfill prices on the increase, donating IT equipment to a social enterprise can be an excellent disposal option. Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) recently donated 183 computers to Tools for Schools, which refurbishes and upgrades computers and sells them on to schools at a reduced cost. Jonathan Davie, chairman of CSFB's charities committee, says: "It is immensely satisfying for us to see obsolete equipment being redeployed and used to create learning tools for children. A number of our donated PCs have been distributed to schools in the Docklands area, which fits perfectly with our charitable objectives."

Why waste wood?

And for construction companies in the Brighton area, there's no excuse for shoving waste wood in a skip and paying landfill charges. The Brighton & Hove Wood Recycling Project collects waste wood for £10/cubic yard and provides a recycling certificate. The wood is sold and the income runs a team of five people who have been long-term unemployed.

So if you need new furniture or upgraded IT and want to improve environmental performance, support the community and impress stakeholders, don't chuck it out. Pick up the phone and get recycling!



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