Making the case for reuse: achieving net zero by 2050

Making the case for reuse: achieving net zero by 2050
Posted on 30 November 2022.

FCC Environment has been exploring the benefits of reuse for several years, with some of our reuse shops well over a decade old, highlighting our long-standing commitment to championing the positive impact that reuse can have on communities and the environment.

Reuse is critical in helping the Government meet its objective of reaching net zero by 2050. Over time we are likely to see a shift away from weight-based targets toward carbon-based targets where the true value of reuse for improving the environment is recognised.

The carbon benefit of reusing an item, prolonging its life or repairing it, will significantly outweigh the carbon generated by recycling the same item.

This is why we continue to seek new partnerships and opportunities, we believe diverting as many unwanted items as possible from other waste streams for reuse can significantly contribute towards building a long-lasting circular economy. Already, in 2020 the UK reused 3.4 million items and generated an equivalent CO2 saving of 123,236 tonnes.

The carbon emission reduction is only one factor in the huge value that reuse can and should have. Another significant upside to reuse is how much it can contribute to reducing household spending. With the current cost-of-living crisis, households are looking for an opportunity to save money without compromising on quality and that is exactly what reuse offers. 

The public’s view

The arguments in favour of reuse are strong and at FCC Environment we are not the only ones who have this opinion. We have twice polled the public to take the measure of both the awareness of, and the appetite for reuse, and the results have been increasingly promising.

Our most recent set of polling, released in October 2022, revealed public opinion is shifting towards a growing desire to not only be able to purchase reused items but also to donate them.

Almost 80% of people agreed that all household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) should have a charity reuse shop on site or nearby and almost 60% of people said they would be more likely to donate unwanted items to an HWRC if it had a charity reuse shop.

What’s more encouraging is that the number of people who have bought an item from their local reuse shop has jumped 12% from 44% in 2020 to 56% in 2022 – a figure we expect to continue to rise.

On top of this, 81% of people expressed their belief that companies and local authorities should be encouraging people to fix their broken items and almost two-thirds of people said they would prefer to be shown how to repair their broken items at their local HWRC than buy a new one.

It is encouraging to see the public appetite for reuse growing and we hope Defra will bear this in mind when developing future sustainability, and waste and resource strategies.

In particular, we believe at some point reuse should start to count towards business carbon reduction figures to better incentivise and give a more varied set of measures by which businesses can contribute to the race to net zero.

In focus: Swanton Road reuse drop-off centre

One of our most recent reuse and repair ventures involved reopening a former HWRC in Norwich as a reuse drop-off centre, working in partnership with local homelessness charity The Benjamin Foundation (TBF). TBF is a close partner to FCC Environment, working in collaboration across Suffolk, Norfolk and Peterborough.

The drop-off centre at Swanton Road is designed to be a convenient option for the public to have a drive-through donation point where locals can drop off larger items, such as cookers, washing machines and fridge freezers, that might be harder to donate to high-street charity shops to give them a second lease of life.

The site is run independently and open five days a week, including weekends giving people the flexibility to drop off their items.

FCC Environment creates social value by donating the items that are dropped off at the centre to TBF, who sort the items and sell them in their shops across Norfolk, raising vital funds for the work they do helping children, young people and families across East Anglia to overcome big challenges in their lives. 

Despite only being open since June 2022, the centre is already making a big impression with almost 500 people have used the facility already. Thanks to FCC’s HWRC contract with neighbouring Suffolk – where FCC operates 11 HWRCs on behalf of Suffolk County Council – we have sourced, refurbished and resold almost 100 fridges, with more still awaiting repair. Most recently, we have also started receiving washing machines.

In the face of the cost-of-living crisis, many families will not have the disposable income to replace a broken fridge or washing machine, but through our reuse initiatives, we can provide affordable and high-quality items to the public.

A reuse revolution

The Swanton Road reuse drop-off centre is one of many initiatives and partnerships we have developed across the country. In 2019 alone, FCC Environment’s reuse shops led to £2,054,282 of revenue and 2,368 tonnes of reuse items.

Our reuse shops each have partnerships with local charities because we want to maximise the social value of our reuse initiatives so their impact is felt positively by a wide range of members of the local community.

Our charity partnerships range from support for domestic abuse survivors to hospices, homelessness charities and in one instance in Wiltshire the refurbishing of white goods for reuse and resale to those in need via our partner Kennet Furniture Refurbiz. In 2021 alone, all of these contributed significantly to FCC’s overall generation of almost £137.5 million of social value.

However, our reuse initiatives go beyond shops and drop-off centres as we have trialled more innovative and varied ways to make reuse accessible. We have done this through regular pop-up shops – our most recent one was in Stowe Gardens in aid of the South Bucks Hospice – and operating repair cafés, where people can bring their broken items and be shown how to fix them.

We have also made a concerted effort to train our staff to spot appealing items for reuse at our HWRCs which do not necessarily have a partner reuse shop.

A role for reuse

The need for innovative measures to help us reach net zero faster is becoming all the more apparent in the face of the growing climate crisis. As is the need to provide affordable essential items for families and individuals across the country, with household budgets ever squeezed, reuse can play a central role in helping families get through what is shaping up to be a challenging winter.


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