Reuse boost to reduce Essex waste

A Chelmsford charity has set up a simple yet effective way to reduce waste going to landfill in the district, by encouraging the public to swap their unwanted goods rather than bin them.

Built on the same model as the ever-expanding Freecycle network (see related story), Chelmsford Envrionment Project’s Junk Swap differs in that rather than listing unwanted items on a website and asking those who wish to claim them to come to pick them up, it collects all the goods in one place and invites the public to browse.

“It most resembles a jumble sale really but without any money changing hands,” organiser Helena Byles told edie.

“Put down to the basics we provide a location, usually parish hall, for people to bring things which they don’t want anymore but that might be wanted by someone else.

“We do not collect stuff before, people bring it on the day and it gets divided into different categories; household, garden, toys, books etc and put in those areas by them or us.

“People are free to look around and take what they want the whole time.”

While recycling, particularly that of household waste, receives a great deal of attention and significant funding, encouraging the re-use of would-be waste is often over-looked and under-funded, despite its higher position in the widely-recognised waste hierarchy.

Ms Byles said she thought there were a number of obstacles that could get in the way of a wider take-up of re-using unwanted items, among them the very British obsession with class.

“There is certainly some belief that having something second hand means it is dirty or more common and one of the biggest problems in this country where there is still a belief in class, that you are lower class [if your possessions aren’t brand new].

“Things do improve, if very slowly, and the popularity of junk swaps shows that.

However it is still not a norm of society, we still have to make special events like the junk swap to encourage it. In a perfect world the junk swap would be redundant because people would swap with friends and neighbours.

“For example maybe within a housing area there would be common garden tools to use and share.

“The only way to address this consumer culture is by biting the hand that feeds it…money. Taxes that reflect the environmental impact of a product or making consumers or manufacturers pay for the discarded items, as with the WEEE directive.

“Also if prices of throw-away products were increased then maybe we wouldn’t buy them. Once again and unfortunately the power of the economy and markets is what will have to drive social change.”

The charity has recently held junk swaps in four Essex villages and hopes to find funding to set up a permanent collection point. Items which are unclaimed by the end of each event are offered to other charities, with arrangements in place for particular goods such as mobile phones, tools, computer equipment and glasses, much of which is shipped to those in developing countries.

The little that remains is sent to landfill, as it would have been had the swap not taken place.

Ms Byles told edie that setting up similar schemes elsewhere would be relatively easy.

“The joys of junk swaps are that they are so simple and easy to run that once we have run one in a village or parish local groups are often eager to take it on themselves- our project just needs to provide a little capital for flier printing and hall and van hire.

“All you need is a location, some volunteers, a van to transport junk to different places at the end of the day and some promotion.

“We tend to do a door to door flier drop in the target area, posters in shop windows and notice boards, adverts in the local press and have been lucky enough to have a few telephone radio interviews which always drum up a lot of interest.

“Without enough people it doesn’t work as well so promo is vital.”

The junk swaps and Chelmsford Environment Project’s other schemes to tackle waste are funded by Big Lottery Fund’s Community Recycling and Economic Development (CRED) Programme, Chelmsford Borough Council and ECCORN.

Sam Bond

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