Emma Elston, founder of UK Container Maintenance and the 2012 businesswoman of the year, looks at what the modern waste and resources industry can learn from the original community recyclers
CIWM Journal Online Exclusive
“Any old iron? Any old iron?” The heyday of the “rag and bone man” is long gone but, as pressure mounts on the entire waste industry to transform its Corporate Social Responsibility aims in order to meet ever-rising Government targets and ever falling budgets, I believe it is time to look back at the original community recyclers for cost-effective inspiration.
The solution is a circular economy – one which captures materials so that today’s stock is remanufactured or reused to become tomorrow’s stock, rather than landfill waste. The key to this in the waste industry is to understand how circular business models can be developed in a way that retains companies’ profitability.
When this logic is applied to waste containers – my area of business – the answer lies not only in the vast cost-saving potential of unlocking the capital tied up in damaged units by restoring them to full working order, in addition to converting and re selling them.
A great current example of the vast array of uses for old containers is at global giant Google, where, in what some thought was an April’s Fools Prank, off-shore server ‘data centres’ were built out of reused and refurbished shipping containers. Closer to home, skincare brand Nivea converted a formerly derelict container into, of all things, a swimming pool as part of its summer ‘Skip Dip’ product campaign earlier this year. Possibilities, such as these, which echo the old “Rag and Bone Man logic” of sustainable communities recycling within themselves are endless.
“A great current example of the vast array of uses for old containers is at global giant Google, where, in what some thought was an April’s Fools Prank, off-shore server ‘data centres’ were built out of reused and refurbished shipping containers.”
We are extremely passionate about reducing our carbon footprint and, as part of our continuous review of systems to support this, we monitor our own outputs and also those of our supply chain. After all, there is a little point in championing the benefits of being an economically astute and aware business if your channel of distribution and support do not echo the same business aims and aspirations.
All UK organisations, regardless of size, should be looking to check the sustainability of its supply chains in this way. Transparency in reduction of your own carbon emissions and footprint, plus those of associated companies, demonstrates your business’ economic credibility and commitment to further sustainability whilst enhancing your reputation, making you a much more attractive option for potential customers and stakeholders.
Needless to say, an added benefit of reducing “fuel driven processes” is a natural reduction of costs, an area which all companies have constantly under review.
In support of our Corporate Social Responsibility Policy we have worked with a number of Local Authorities across the UK to convert redundant 40 year old bottle banks into community recycling units. Similarly some old, yet potentially serviceable, which were originally designed to withstand the test of time and not to be written off due to superficial damage were recycled and refurbished into WEEE (Waste of Electrical & Electronic Equipment) Recycling Banks which are helping cut council costs and improve local recycling rates.
“There is much more work to do but, as an industry, responsible for handling what others throw away, it is our prerogative and, I believe, responsibility to that ensure waste goes to the most cost-effective place, which is in this modern age, is either a new home or reuse.”
These innovative ideas were the result of finding yards full of disused containers that were falling into serious disrepair. Restored to full working order, despite being previously considered ready for scrap, we’re proud to say that these containers are now being used as public recycling units for unwanted electrical goods up and down the country, reducing local authorities’ carbon footprint and diverting more waste from landfill, including the bin itself.
These examples of unique recycling containers ensure the collection of recyclable goods can continue for many years, within containers which have been recycled themselves
I believe the key to success comes in changing attitudes across the industry and in spreading the realisation that restoration is far cheaper than buying new in addition to being far simpler and rewarding; not only in terms of your Corporate Social Responsibility but on a personal pride level.
There is much more work to do but, as an industry, responsible for handling what others throw away, it is our prerogative and, I believe, responsibility to that ensure waste goes to the most cost-effective place, which is in this modern age, is either a new home or reuse.