A key part of the circular economy is considering waste; what we throw away, why we dispose of it, and how we can reduce the amount we send to landfill sites. But not many people consider what happens to their items once they're thrown away. A new start-up in York is aiming to change that.
The Recycle Project is a CIC founded by Bradley Mulhearn, who has been collecting, repairing, and re-selling the bikes that end up in North Yorkshire's waste sites for the last 10 years. However, he noticed an increasing amount of other household items that were perfectly usable turning up in landfill sites, and working with North Yorkshire County Council's waste management team, Yorwaste, created the Recycle Project to help solve the problem.
Launched in April of this year, Recycle takes the vast range of items that turn up in landfill – including furniture, books, and sporting equipment – and their team of volunteers refurbishes and repairs them, before selling them on to local residents. The items that turn up can be staggeringly diverse, from CDs and DVDs, children's toys (sometimes still in their packaging), and even a model ship that is currently undergoing restoration with the Recycle team. "You never know what's going to come out of the van," Bradley laughed, "but there's always a lot of it." And there definitely is – Recycle currently rescue about 40 tonnes of items every month, all of which would otherwise end up in landfill.
The Recycle Project doesn't just rescue items from landfill, but also aims to give people the skills to repair and upcycle their own items to stop more furniture being thrown away in the first place. They run workshops four days a week that talk attendees through the damage to an item and how best to fix it, both through upcycling and more tool-based skills. The workshops have proved to be a hit, with many attendees inspired to learn new skills by programmes such as The Repair Shop and keen to reduce the impact their lifestyles have on the planet.
The Recycle Project's mission is to get people thinking about waste differently, and consider second-hand and upcycled goods for their home, helping keep items in circulation. Bradley admits that changing perceptions is one of the most difficult parts of their work, as some people can be dismissive of items that have been saved from landfill, so they ensure that any upcycled pieces look just as good as something newly-produced. The uniqueness of upcycled items is often a draw, as is the knowledge that buying rescued items is better for the planet.
And Recycle have plans to bring their expertise to other parts of Yorkshire, hoping to open a second hub somewhere else within the region so more people can benefit from their skills. Bradley is keen to make Recycle accessible to everyone, possibly donating furniture to underprivileged people, and ensuring that they continue to create opportunities that are good for the people, and for the planet.
Working with the council to get access to the waste sites was essential - we already had a working relationship as I had been collecting bikes for 10 years from them, but working with them meant we were able to get regular access to the sites and make the biggest impact.
Accessibility for the public is also key; all our furniture is fairly-priced to encourage people to buy second-hand and help reduce waste, as well as allowing anyone on any income to furnish their home properly. The workshops we run around refurbishment and upcycling are also completely free, a deliberate decision to ensure they remain accessible to everyone in the community. "These skills - knowing how to repair things, how to make best use of what we've got – are essential. Everyone should have them. There's no point locking them behind a paywall." (direct quote)
We're still working hard to change the public's perception of recycled furniture - whilst many consider it a chance to get something unique, some see it as a less upmarket option. Creating a space that allows people to come in and browse properly is essential to helping people realise the opportunity in buying upcycled pieces.
- Amount of waste diverted from landfill each month (about 40 tonnes).
- Number of people who attend workshops on upcycling, repair, and refurbishing of items.