Archives for category: Rethinking Stuff

By Alex Murray, Community Coordinator for Collect Your Old Bed

In these days of modern recycling and effective council collection arrangements, we’d like to think we’ve moved on from the days when stained old mattresses lay dumped and discarded on street corners.  However, since 1 April 2014, more local councils across the UK announced plans to join those already charging their communities for bulky waste collection, leading to increased concern about fly-tipping in areas where disposal is needed, but can’t be afforded at local council rates.


From Free Collection to Fee Collection – it’s no April Fool!

There’s no standardisation of costs for bulky item removal across the UK.  Some councils which have been charging for a considerable time already put their prices up on the 1st April, whilst others, such as Luton council have replaced their free service with a £25 charge for up to three items.  Similarly, Wychavon District Council moved from offering a generous free collection service (two collections per year, per household) to a fee-required collection service.  Other councils, such as Eastbourne, have expensive charges of £50 for up to 3 items, in order to subsidise continued free collection for local pensioners.

What is bulky?

The term bulky item tends to cover those large household items which households may have trouble taking to local landfill themselves.  These include mainly furniture items such as:

  • Mattresses
  • Three piece suites, sofas and armchairs
  • Shelving units
  • Dining tables and chairs
  • Bulky bedroom furniture such as wardrobes and dressing tables
  • Electrical appliances such as fridges, freezers and washing machines.  Most councils offer completely separate tariffs for the collection and disposal of electrical items.

Big costs for bulky items

The costs for removal vary considerably between councils, based upon priorities, available resource  and things like the sprawl of the households they serve, and therefore fuel costs to reach them.  Understandably charges tend to be slightly higher in more rural areas, but by offering more items to be removed for the money can encourage neighbours to work together and cut costs for themselves and the councils.

For example, in the high peaks area of Derbyshire, the minimum cost for bulky item removal is £22 for up to 5 items, whilst in Wychavon the minimum cost is £19 for pick up and disposal of up to two bulky items only.

Some residents and their local politicians have expressed concern where councils are now charging for bulky item removal, fearing a resurgence of fly-tipping, the careless dumping of items in residential areas.  In many cases this may be the case but fly-tipping nationally does not appear to be on the increase at present.


However, for others, these new fees could end up benefiting many, including those households looking to dispose of their items, as where responsible (but low-income) households might previously have taken up free council collection, they may now seek free alternatives which fit ethical environmental and communal codes, such as:

Charity Furniture Shops

More and more charities, such as the British Heart Foundation and many local hospices and their related charities now have charity shops which deal solely in furniture donations.  As such, they offer a free collection service for suitable items and allow households to recycle their unwanted bulky items in a charitable as well as environmentally-friendly way.

Community Charity Collections

Similar to the charity collection services where your donated item ends up raising funds for the charity are the charity collection services where your donated item is passed on to a family or individual in need.  Many charities working with the homeless and disadvantaged arrange free collections and pass on items straight to families who are starting from scratch to create a home.

Freegle / Freecycle

Already a hit in the UK, Freegle is a nationwide group-based method for passing on a variety of household and garden items to others who might benefit from them.  It works at local community levels to put people offering items as available in touch with those needing them or by posting a request for items needed and seeing if anyone has one to give away.

Private Collection Companies

Many local areas also offer a growing number of private companies who run collection services for those bulky household items; including specialist collection companies for particular items, such as Collect Your Old Bed a newly formed business focused on the safe disposal of mattresses and bed frames or high street companies that will collect your old appliances to recycle when they deliver the new one.

Despite the obvious jokes about the 1st April launch of fees for councils’ bulk item collections across the UK, there’s a sense of black humour about whether council-run schemes will prove viable in the long-term and how the new costs will affect local households and communities in terms of the choices they make, particularly with such ready access to free and eco-friendly alternatives.

by Alex Murray, Community Coordinator for Collect Your Old Bed

By Phil Gibbs, Director of Pure Planet Recycling

Due to extensive media campaigns and advice from our local Councils, we should all now know to take our broken electrical items to a local recycling centre. You know, the place we used to call the “Tip” where we threw away items and didn’t think about where they ended up? In the case of that broken old vacuum or kettle, up until a matter of years ago, it probably ended up buried in the ground.  So now when we place that item into the container at the recycling centre, what happens to it and where does it end up?

The local recycling centre will store the broken/old electrical items in a large container until completely full in order to move as much as they can in one go. Transporting waste is both expensive in terms of money and C02 emissions, so a larger load moving fewer miles is the preferred option. Once the container is full it will be transported to a specialist recycling facility. In the world of electrical waste recycling this is known as an Approved Authorised Treatment Facility (AATF).

Contained within the electrical items are valuable materials that will help to create new products from the raw materials. The job of the AATF is to separate out these materials and recover them from the products. This is achieved by specialist recycling machinery in an almost automated step by step process.

Firstly electrical items are loaded onto a large conveyor, feeding the equipment into part of the site similar to that of a giant food processor. The electrical equipment crashes against each other within the machine causing it to break into smaller pieces which then come out onto another conveyor belt to be transported to the next stages. Now in smaller pieces the machine has to identify the different material types. Plastics are separated via air currents blowing them in one direction onto a different conveyor whilst ferrous metals are picked off by a strong magnetic current. Batteries and any other hazardous components are handpicked from the line for specialist recycling. All the while conveyor belts transport the separate materials for shredding as the last stage of the process.  As the materials are now in small, separate pieces, the job is done and they end up in separate containers. This can now be transported out as a product for reuse.

This type of specialist electrical waste recycling machinery produces recycling rates around 97%, which is great. They produce clean and segregated material streams such as cable, mixed plastics, precious and non-precious metals. Using these recycled materials for making new products is a lot more carbon efficient than using virgin materials.

Electrical items such as televisions and fridges that contain hazardous materials undergo a separate recycling process. They are still processed by an AATF but not within the same machinery. This is due to the hazards they contain which require separate processing. The end goal of recovering the materials they are made of is the same, just with a different process.

When you next take your electrical items to your recycling facility you are both helping to reuse valuable materials and at the same time helping the UK meet recycling targets. Currently only 1 in 5 electrical items are recycled, we must help to increase this rate. So please take your waste electrical equipment to the recycling facility and help give the materials that they are made of a new life.


Phil Gibbs is a Director of Pure Planet Recycling, an electrical waste recycling company for businesses. He helps promote the benefits of electrical waste recycling in the UK.

By: Mildred Ho, Waste Watch

August 02, 2013

WEEE week is finally coming to an end. A huge thank you to our partners and for those who visited our information roadshows! We made appearances at the Asda store in Barking & Dagenham, Romford Market in Havering, High Street in Newham and High Roads in Redbridge and spoke with around 700 members of the public.  All four events went extremely well and we were very fortunate that the rain held off. It was a great pleasure exchanging dialogues and tips on reducing, reusing and recycling Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) with local residents.

It is important for us to reduce, reuse and recycle WEEE items instead of throwing them away with the rest of our household rubbish. If your unwanted items are in working order, why not ask relatives or friends if they would like them, donate them to a charity shop or even swap or sell them online. It might also be worthwhile repairing broken electronics. Just like the old saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

Although we are wrapping up WEEE Week, if you are a resident in Havering, you can come join us and bring your unwanted or broken small electrical items on Havering Small Electricals Recycling Collection Day happening on August 30, running from 10am – 4pm at Romford Market. Click here for more event details.

WEEE items contain toxins including mercury, cadmium, lead, chromium and beryllium which, if thrown in the general waste, can contaminate our environment and cause detrimental effects to wildlife and people. Many of these hazardous materials are neurotoxins and can worryingly get into our food systems.  It is essential therefore that we dispose our waste electrical items correctly and don’t put them in our waste bins.

To locate your closest electronics reuse and recycling centre, simply enter your post code here.


Figure 1 – Our Community Engagement Officer, Siddiq showing off our reclaimed sculpture made with broken computer parts.


Figure 2 – Francesca Morris is a keen 3Rs hero that we met during the Havering Roadshow. Her top tip on WEEE is to reuse connection plugs and wires.


Figure 3 – Event participant and IT- enthusiast, Gavin Wrendre Wilson giving thumbs up on our WEEE displays.


Figure 4 – Fatma Zahraa was ecstatic to learn about the proper disposal of WEEE items.


Hoyan Ip’s fantastic project Bio-trimmings proposes to identify the relationship between food waste and waste from the fashion industry. The Bio-trimmings collection includes products such as shoulder pads, buckles, buttons and sequins; all made from food that were otherwise destined to be disposed of.

Today, trims such as buttons, metal buckles and zippers are all manufactured industrially where there are concerns on the impact it has on the environment; it consumes huge amounts of energy and fuel. Bio-trimmings uses food that would have otherwise been wasted by separating, drying, cooking, blending and transforming it.

Hoyan believes it is worthwhile to preserve what we already have in our closets and to make items ready for when they become trendy again. “It can be argued that nothing in fashion  is new; trends are re-interpreted season by season. As more designers emerge, there is very little we can do to dispose of unwanted clothes ethically, especially when you think about the sensitivity and thought that has gone into making a garment”.

“To avoid as much wastage as a possible in this project, a further product was developed from the cut out waste of buttons which resulted in the production of sequins. They can be used to embellish and alter the character of a brand. Furthermore, the sequin products can be used as a resolution to repair old, ripped garments that can be updated with coloured sequins of different shapes and sizes”.

We think the project is simply beautiful and shows just what is possible with resources that would otherwise be considered ‘waste’.


We ran a Revaluing Food for the Future course for community leaders - people who live in the community and actively wanted to make a difference. Each week, we allowed participants to envision ways that they could make a change and then give them tools and support to make it a reality.

Carla Jones, had an interest in how people interact with their local food landscape. She helped us to put on a free community Walk, Talk, Taste! event in Shepherds Bush, which offered residents a chance to explore the rich array of local food shops that they unknowingly had under their feet.

This is what Carla found out.

Our journey

The walk saw around thirty people set out onto the streets of Hammersmith to explore the local area. As I prepared seed beds for the new growing season over the long Easter weekend I had the chance to reflect on three things I took away with me.

Lesson 1: Build health on a plate

We played a game with string and jumbling up fun to figure out the recommended proportions of the main food groups.

Interactive pie chart game

Interactive pie chart game

The proportions for the pie chart were taken from government guidelines; a good place to start and a springboard for me to look deeper into understanding the importance of fresh and whole foods. This is so pertinent when you consider over 60% of adults in the UK are said to be obese.

Lesson 2: Local food history is rich. And the high street needs supporting

Over the last decades our economy and lives in the UK have undergone big transformations. This hasn’t missed our high streets – most notably in the massive decline of independent food retailers. For instance, there were 10,000 fishmongers on our streets in the 1950’s. In 2000 this had dropped to 2,000. A similar story for butchers and greengrocers which numbered about 45,000 each in the 1950’s, this had fallen to 10,000 each at the turn of the millennium.

Mapping the highstreet

We created transparent images allowing residents to see what the once thriving highstreet looked like.

We witnessed this locally on Goldhawk Road. Local residents are fervently campaigning to protect the street from complete redevelopment as its shops face decline.

Talking to a local business owner

Talking to a local business owner

Talking to a local butcher, John Stenton, we learnt about his commitment to sourcing local and organic meats over his almost 30 years of trading in Brackenbury. He represents the retailers with deep roots and strong support locally that won’t be budged so easily.

Lesson 3: Reconnecting with the origins of my food 

A typical, average, find-me-on-a-street-corner banana costs about 20p. The entire chain of production and trading that brings this fruit to my breakfast bowl was brought to life in a legendary game that morning. Designed by the Otesha Project, the Banana Chain Game prompted me to think about the inequalities built into our food system. The slap in the face for the characters representing the production side of the chain was evident on their expressions when they learnt that 1p of that value had to be shared between them representing the tiny proportion of value that accrues to producers.

Playing the Otesha UK Banana Chain Game

Playing the Otesha UK Banana Chain Game

Straight after, a volunteer from the Hammersmith Community Gardens Association told us about what could be done to reconnect people with food production and distribution chains that are much shorter. And easier to see from start to finish.

Before we’d had a chance to retrace our steps, the morning’s travels were over and we’d uncovered some of the social, environmental and health implications of the food we buy. Thinking about the games, smiles and chats we’d had with shopkeepers, we all drew maps to remember them by… We realised that we’d covered a lot of ground for one spring morning.

I hope that when I’m next out shopping I’ll refer back to these before I just let items drop into my basket.

Food map

Food map remembering the journey


Morgan Phillips Our Common Place Team Leader

Tracey (our lovely new Comms manager) and I had a tour of the Recycle Western Riverside MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) last week. It was a real eye-opener about how big a problem the contamination of recycling is. Special mention here for Shredded Paper and bottle tops, it is really hard for the MRF to separate them from the broken up glass they collect. The pile of glass that comes out the end of the process is quite literally littered with plastic bottle tops and tiny strips of paper!

Through Our Common Place, we’re working from values to encourage people living on estates to recycle more and better. People putting the wrong things in their recycling bin, is not just an issue of a lack of information, it is also sadly because people just don’t seem that bothered about it. During our pre-project recycle bin monitoring we’ve found all sorts of the wrong things in the bins from broken kitchen tiles and food waste to old clothes and toys. Yesterday, I even found a large cuddly turtle teddy bear!

Whenever you recycle, please spare a thought for the people who have to work at the MRF, although the machines do most of the separation, there are also about 20 people working 8 hour shifts sorting waste by hand. If you improve your recycling habits for no other reason, improve them to make the work of these people a little easier.

If you’d like to find out more about the Our Common Place project, or more details about going on a tour of the MRF, please contact me by email to:

Tim BurnsTim Burns, Head of Community Engagement

When most people are asked the question ‘what is value?’ they may either think of buying a half price pair of jeans in the sale or our internal values we try to live by. But are these two concepts of value really that different? Or if they are not right now should they be in the future?

Let’s start with economic value or the price of stuff, taking water and diamonds as an example. Water allows us to survive and is fundamental to all life on earth unlike diamonds that are merely an accessory. Yet diamonds are typically thousands of pounds more expensive than water.

Adam Smith, a pioneer of economics, suggested two different reasons for this – the word value can be used to express the utility of a particular product in use or the power of a product in exchange. The evolution of culture can encourage and normalise higher values for products if they become fashionably desirable, coupled to this as these products become rarer demand exceeds supply and the price increases further. For our diamond, it is now the norm that men should spend two to three months salary on an engagement ring (incidentally this originated from marketing campaigns run by De Beers , a diamond mining company).

Another example is the bluefin tuna. This beautiful fish up to 5 metres in length was once plentiful and affordable to most people but has since been hunted towards extinction and now fetches up to £470 per kilogram. Sadly the rarer this fish has become, the higher its value at market making it more sought after and more hunted by fishermen across the oceans. The only thing that could have possibly stopped this charge was government intervention formally designating bluefin as a protected species. Earlier this year, however, a UN vote to protect bluefin was decisively quashed by countries across the world. Unsurprising, when the economic stakes are so high. The value of this example to the tuna is if you are in danger be cute and cuddly and not a luxury foodstuff, or for us do not always rely on the market to point us towards sustainability.

Prices can also differ on face value at the checkout to the consumer as a result of what is and is not covered in the cost. A fast food burger meal deal bought in the UK will cost around £3.99. The total price of this dinner is artificially cheap and favoured by a growing number of people especially from lower socio-economic backgrounds. But is this the true cost of the burger and what other costs are hidden in the price that we are not paying for?

If we start with health, the nutritional content of fast food is low and the growth of eating in this way has lead to corresponding increases in obesity, heart disease and diabetes. This not only reduces well-being and happiness but also be a huge economic drain on the health service paid for by the UK taxpayer.  Efficiencies in lowering the price of food have also lead to dramatic increases in incidences of food borne illnesses. Lastly on the social side we have unethical labour costs across the supply chain. At the farm or in the fast food outlet for example many workers are paid only minimum wage, whilst cattle farmers themselves are often poorly paid, in debt through contracts to the companies they supply, and have the highest work sector suicide rates across the world.

A CowFinally the environmental costs of producing our ‘meal deals’ are not reflected in the price. Beef is hugely resource intensive in comparison to healthier food, such as fruit and vegetables, and has a much larger water, oil, food (for feed) and land footprint. The consequences are climate change, peak oil, conflicts over local water supplies, biodiversity loss and human malnutrition from food price spikes in a system stretched so much that there is little resilience to absorb these shocks.

These external costs are often left out by businesses driven by profit and market pressures and it is left to society to pay these costs now and in the future. We can all start to price in some of these external costs, for example by choosing fair-trade, organic, local in season produce and ensuring where possibly we eat a balanced diet. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask more questions about where our food comes from and how is made especially when our health and the health or the planet is at stake. We should also demand better regulation from government to support this and ensure companies have to pay for the true cost of their activities rather than society.

Therefore a fairer system for our planet, ourselves and each other may entail paying a little more at the till but the overall value we get back is likely to be far better for ourselves, our society and our planet.

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