Criminal Waste in the UK

“We’d like throwing away something that could be reused to become like drink-driving – something that responsible citizens just don’t do.”

THOSE ARE the words of Cat Fletcher, a Freegle representative who I spoke to earlier this week. Relating something like household waste to the severity of drink driving may be a contentious idea, but the stats are mounting: each year, in Britain alone, 56 million litres of paint purchased is never used. This is a perfectly good item that could be used by another, waste on a scale which will, to many people, sound criminal.

Freegle offer a solution: join an online community of people that are looking to either pass on unwanted items or are looking for something specific. It isn't the most complicated notion but it is one that has helped the redistribution of close to 950 tonnes of unwanted goods in the last month alone.

original image source The Independent

The environmental impact of this is profound but the economic gains that can be made to the Freegler are also substantial.

“.. all across the country people are making the world that little bit better by giving away things they no longer need to people who often wouldn't otherwise be able to get them. That’s particularly important at the moment when there are so many economic pressures on people.”

So what items can be found in your community? The most frequently Freegled items are, as you would most likely expect, common household furniture. Much of which can be classified as in their infancy of use, deemed unwanted when the owner needs to move or de clutter. Unsurprising when you see that in the UK 83% of sofas taken to skips are of a standard of reuse, but they are not; they largely end up burnt or buried.

One man’s throwaways are another’s keepsakes, and in an era of vintage and retro where better to start your refurbishment than your neighbours loft? After all, having a network of 383 groups across the UK and 1.4 million members means that you do get the odd surprise thrown into the mix too.

“We had a World War II air raid shelter on one group – it had been in someone’s garden and they wanted a bit more space for potatoes. One group had a yacht, which went to a local youth project.”

I don’t know about you, but the thought of someone trading in their air raid shelter in return for some potato space made me chuckle, and since the interview, I have checked every 15 minutes for an unwanted yacht! No luck yet I should add.

It is not just household items that Freegle care about bringing into reuse, the issue of construction waste was frequently mentioned when I attended Eco Technology show this past month, and it is one that the folk at Freegle are passionate about engaging. This is not surprising when you look at the numbers, for instance, 8 million tonnes of wood is thrown out every year in the UK, 80% of it is reusable but does not get reused.

Freegle are actively involved in refurbishment plans throughout the UK, namely and most regularly Brighton, here projects have helped reduce the skip quota by over 50% as well as saving money and supporting the local community. Cat suggests that taking care and thinking with longevity in the planning process can save you money and help leave a greener footprint.

“Construction waste accounts for about 60% of all waste in UK … Wasteful action often comes about because of lack of planning and a desire for instant gratification”

Freegle, formed in 2009, are looking towards Government to take a stance and encourage the attitude of reuse. They argue that this can be done by firstly measuring and reporting the amount that they reuse, and furthermore by implementing incentives to local councils for reuse through VAT or tax breaks. It was suggested to me that most city councils are more interested in meeting recycling targets that they have to report on than taking an active step in encouraging reuse in their communities.

However, as much as this call for Government action is required, a change in the attitude of people towards the practice of reuse is equally as impending. Partly due to the lack of knowledge that people have over the impact of small actions and also because of a lack of familiarity with digital resources such as Freegle.

“We've got a long way to go – people are very aware of recycling now, but that’s treating a manufactured object as scrap, so it’s still a waste. People are aware of eBay and charity shops, but beyond that reuse hasn't really become a mainstream idea.”

I find it inspiring looking at the work of Freegle, to be able to connect you with an item you are after in a moment, and give you the opportunity to both save money and benefit the environment is not a deal that is easy to come by! It is done through the tireless commitment of the people who work with Freegle. Utilising an increasingly digital age will of course benefit Freegle and so it is great to hear that they are currently working on getting a mobile app up and running – although as they run entirely on volunteers contribution this is not going as fast as they would like.

With financial restraints increasingly influencing the decisions we make in our everyday lives, it is a wonder as to why people don’t look to reuse as their first call to action. The stigma of reusing an item is still created when mainstream advertising and culture points to having a new and glossy item as the source of happiness and fulfilment. It is here that Freegle faces one of its biggest obstacles; it needs support in the education and implementation of reuse as a common ideology, once this network of support is in full effect tools like Freegle will be allowed to flourish and grow.

If you would like to read the full interview you can find the Interview transcript here

To help, Support, Join or Explore Freegle visit the Freegle website

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