The reuse of furniture, electricals and other household items can make a great difference

Not only does it help reduce the amount of waste going to landfill it can also make a difference to people’s lives, as many of the reused items are used by people in need. Some of these people include families fleeing domestic violence, individuals who were previously homeless or leaving the health care system.

A new report has called on local authorities and manufacturers of 'bulky waste' - waste too big for normal disposal - to put a greater emphasis on the reuse of unwanted furniture.

Rearranging the Furniture, a report from the waste think-tank RSA and resources firm SUEZ, recommends that local authorities should become ‘resource returners’ rather than waste managers and that manufacturers should work closely with the authorities to implement a system that allows for collection of bulky products, to ensure they are made available to charities for reuse.

Read the full report

What to do with unwanted household items poses a particular problem in the UK; the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that 670,000 tonnes of furniture and 310,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) – including household items such as white goods, televisions and fridges – are disposed of annually by UK householders. According to the Reuse Network, 10 million household items are sent to landfill every year, three million of which could potentially be suitable for reuse.

David Palmer-Jones, chief executive officer of the Recycling and Recovery UK division at SUEZ said: “Despite sitting above recycling in the waste hierarchy, reuse does not get nearly the same attention as recycling does.  The opportunities to make more of the products we discard are huge - but it needs a concerted and coordinated push from product designers, policymakers and waste management service providers."

Bulky waste provides a different challenge for waste managers as it is too big to be disposed of in rubbish bins. With the collectors also unable to enter a residents home the furniture is either left outside and exposed to weather, or cut up into pieces so it can be transported to landfill. Both of these scenarios halt the potential of a circular economy in the furniture industry.

Despite the report focusing on bulky waste, it also warns that the UK’s wider system of waste reuse needs an overhaul in order to tap into waste-saving potentials. According to the report 80% of potential environmental implications and reuse options occur at the concept design stage.

The report recommends that policy makers should continue to increase landfill tax and introduce a ban on landfill for bulky waste. It also recommends that the land-tax should be used to fund re-use collection and waste prevention services.

Circular economy

The report states that not only will reuse positively affect the environment, it will also have economic impacts for both consumer and charity. By working with collectors or reuse charities, manufacturers can save on costs while boosting employment.

WRAP believes that a European transition to the circular economy could create three million extra jobs by 2030.

Zero Waste Scotland has recently provided funding in order to train repair skills for e-waste and furniture.