Taking the strain for social change

Impressive landfill diversion rates for bulky waste is just one of several benefits an award-winning reuse outfit is offering local councils

Collecting bulky household waste on behalf of councils in the northwest of England has earned Bulky Bobs a social enterprise award for the innovative way it is diverting material from landfill and making a real contribution to the local community in the process.

A subsidiary of Merseyside-based charity FRC Group, Bulky Bobs is a community reuse organisation and was set up to collect and recover bulky household waste on behalf of local authorities. Since winning its first contract with Liverpool City Council in 2000, Bulky Bobs has grown organically and last year, won another five-year contract with Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council.

Bulky Bobs is currently collecting around 3,500 tonnes a year of material from Liverpool. Items including white goods, fridges and furniture are separated out on the truck and everything that is reusable is put in a corner.

"We train our drivers to know what we can sell," says Alan Smith, business development manager at Bulky Bobs. "It can be anything - sofas, armchairs, dining tables. We work with a company called Create and all white goods go to them, 10% of which can be refurbished and reused."

Smith reports that Bulky Bobs is achieving a landfill diversion rate of almost 40% in Liverpool - some 1,800 tonnes. This has mushroomed from its first contracted year, where it diverted just 13%, but Smith says the organisation has now reached a plateau and is looking for new ways to hike up rates further.

"In the new year we're hoping to find different outlets for the goods. We're recycling and reusing as much as we can, but we're still left with a bulk. We have started carpet recycling which is a big thing - trying to recycle a carpet is a nightmare, lots of people have tried and failed. We've got a timescale and are trying to work out when it will be economical to start doing various things."

He adds that if planned projects like carpet recycling take off, diversion rates could increase to 75%. The organisation also works with a network of stores called Revive to sell items it has saved as "pre-loved goods" where people who are unemployed or on low incomes can purchase them at a discounted rate.

Community spirit
Smith says this is a prime example of how Bulky Bobs is helping to promote social inclusion. "We've just worked out the social return on our investment and we've sold furniture to the value of £150,000. To buy that furniture brand new would have cost £750,000."

Other social change impacts include a 12-month training programme that the organisation runs for long-term unemployed people to help them get back into work. Here, staff are trained in key skills including manual handling (lifting), driving, first aid, and health and safety.

"Ultimately we want them to be trained so they can drive most types of vehicle, up to a seven-and-a-half tonne truck," explains Smith, adding: "Of all the trainees who stay with us for a full year, 93% move onto full-time employment."

Bulky Bobs is now attracting a lot of interest from other local authorities in Merseyside and Greater Manchester, and even further afield. Smith believes its recent Social Enterprise Coalition award will only serve to heighten its profile further.

"We're contacting local authorities and saying: 'Look rather than your own people collecting this and landfilling it all, why don't we collect it and reuse it? It's far cheaper and you get plenty of benefits.' There's a lot of interest in that."

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