Blog: Reuse and Repair – working together to drive social value

The first series of 6 joint SUEZ/CIWM webinars were such a success, we have created a second series to explore a range of new topics in more detail. These 90-minute webinars, a direct response to the feedback received, allow us to invite more panellists, and dig a little deeper into the issue in question, with the new topics also having been selected to reflect the interest of the attendees from the previous events.

The first of these deep dive sessions explored reuse and repair and how we can normalise these systems to enable a faster transition towards a circular economy, whilst also discussing the wider benefits this might bring, and how together we can drive greater social value.

Dr. Adam Read (External Affairs Director at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK and the webinar chair) and CIWM’s Helen Chaplin reflect on a very interesting webinar, consider the key talking points, and look behind the poll results.

Policy

One of the key issues with the slow development of mainstream reuse and repair is that there hasn’t been much policy actively supporting it to date here in the UK. Policy development started at the bottom of the waste hierarchy and has slowly made its way up – through landfill and recovery to recycling, and with reuse and repair next in the hierarchy, maybe some policy development is due.

As such, activity around reuse and repair has been much more ‘voluntary’ in nature. For example, Matt Manning (of Dixons Carphone) said that they incorporated reuse and repair into their business model in recent years because they could see the opportunity as plenty of electrical goods were being returned to them that weren’t at their end of life.

Patrick Mahon (of WRAP) commented on why we haven’t seen more attention paid to reuse from UK policy makers stating that ‘it’s difficult to quantify!’ For example, how you provide evidence that reuse has happened, and how do you count reuse actions? Patrick elaborated further stating that its ‘easier to measure recycling and it’s easier to talk about recycling, which is why reuse has been, and continuous to be, neglected in policy circles’.

Our panellists agreed with the 79% of attendees that voted in poll question 1 that there should be a mandatory reuse target in UK policy. Patrick believed that there should be some sort of target to drive action, after all ‘what gets measured, gets managed’, however he restated the obvious difficulties with how you define it, which could cause problems from a regulatory perspective. Catherine Causley (of Devon County Council) agreed with Patrick that legislation would be difficult to design, but stated that targets have to move away from recycled tonnage and start looking at other metrics such as social value in order to put reuse and repair firmly into policy debates and the public’s consciousness.

Metrics

An obvious and recurring issue with reuse, as previously discussed, is how you measure it?

Sarah Ottoway (of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK) proposed that there is ‘far more value per tonne in reuse than any other part of the circular economy or the waste hierarchy’ because of the opportunities that come with it in terms of reskilling, job creation and local economic development. This perspective could help to make reuse more mainstream because its value starts to outweigh the cost significantly more than say recycling.

When considering social profit, it’s important to fully understand what it means and how value is attached to different activities. Social value calculations bring in environment, social and economic benefits to the equation, ensuring a full triple bottom line assessment of any activity or policy is considered. Sarah relayed how in 2019, 2,400 tonnes of equipment was diverted through reuse channels by SUEZ in the UK, and she estimates that each tonne has created £13,500 of social value. Sarah discussed how SUEZ are now working with people and organisations who have been studying social value and profit for a long time to help the company fully assess future investments and operational decisions. But there isn’t a simple, standard metric for reuse or social value yet, and this is still hampering the progress of these activities to some degree.

Sarah revealed how SUEZ now measure social impact by studying the social return on investment, and what the difference in cost is between a brand-new item and one that is resold. If you understand the activity and then what metrics and evaluations you have available, you will be able to calculate the value. The next step is to develop industry (or cross sectoral) benchmarks and metrics, with a heightened trust in the metrics and the tools so that the sector as a whole can progress their thinking on investing in ruse and repair by seeing the true benefits beyond the purely economic ones.

Social value

The webinar really showcased the importance of social value for the audience, shedding new light on why reuse and repair should be more central to the UK policy agenda. For example, working in repair is extremely valuable in terms of providing jobs, and Sarah shared an example of prisoners in Surrey repairing bikes and continuing to do so after they had been released with a new skill set. Reuse and repair centres are the perfect environment to develop skills, and offer education for all ages from school and beyond.

The volunteers at repair cafes and reuse sites are often of the older generation, and although this presented risks during the height of Covid-19, they are a critical demographic to the successful running of many of the repair cafes in the UK, and their future expansion. Catherine mentioned how local communities use repair cafes to meet people, to socialise and to keep active which highlights the social aspect of reuse and repair on people’s lifestyles – something that should not be undervalued in any way.

Another benefit of reuse and repair is creating affordable items which can be bought by disadvantaged families, and in some cases the furniture or items are donated to those just starting out in their own place. Reuse and repair means the money and resources tend to stay in the local economy, and as such everyone benefits. For example, Sarah discussed how sports shoes from the 2012 Olympic ceremony were given to children so they could participate in extra-curricular activities at school and within the community, and Elaine Brown (from Edinburgh Remakery) expressed how her charity was playing a crucial role during Covid in terms of a space for improving the wellbeing for many individuals.

Our second poll showed that resource protection was perceived as the biggest benefit of reuse and repair. Patrick wasn’t surprised by the results because of the audiences’ position in the sector, with many of them actively engaged in resource / waste management already. Elaine agreed stating clearly that different audiences would choose different benefits, but that shows how all the aspects are important and will have different advantages in different settings. Adam summarised, saying that ‘all the options are entry routes to reuse and repair and it gets people thinking differently about resources and consumption patterns. None of the benefits are exclusionary to the others’.

Behaviour change

Part of the reason that reuse and repair has had a slow uptake to date by the general public has been the issue of perception, with anecdotal stories being shared of people’s concerns about getting something mended or taking on a product that is second or third hand. Our panellists discussed ways in which attitudes and then behaviour could be changed to be more accepting of reuse and repair opportunities, and the driving factors required to make this happen. Elaine suggested that the personal drive to use repair cafes isn’t always environmental and about saving the planet, ‘it’s also about teaching new skills and perhaps through this engagement we can affect behaviour change and heighten awareness of the importance of reducing consumption to deliver net zero’.

Sarah agreed with the third poll results noting that one of the more obvious ways of normalising reuse and repair is to look at it in terms of creating greater accessibility – both financially as it is cheaper to buy second hand, but also geographically as items can be collected locally. Sarah also suggested that providing a stimulus such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and by creating policy measures to enable extended warranties that ‘value’ the product based on its upgrade and refurbishment rather than the initial product itself.

Sarah also suggested the clear need for business models to evolve for the big brands so that reuse and repair become their main source of income rather than selling items new. This will also help it to become normalised if people are opting for a product that is refurbished / repaired before they look for one that is brand new. This may be a little way off for Dixons Carphone, but Matt suggested this was very much part of their business evolution thinking.

Matthew agreed with the results from the fourth poll concerning the best way for businesses to help deliver reuse and repair. As a take back retailer, he was happy for it to become mandatory for larger stores to offer take back services, and mentioned how trade-in offers are a good incentive to encourage people to bring items back. Elaine thinks that businesses should be gently nudged towards delivering reuse and repair, or pushed harder by policy to play their role. She would also like to see more effective green procurement as it forces collaboration and provides community benefits. Elaine summarised by saying that there was a place for all of these ‘options’, and with a bit of each it will get us to where we want to be in the near future. Clearly she was feeling optimistic on the day in question, although none of the panellists challenged her optimism!

The audience voted in our fifth and final poll that developing new procurement frameworks building on the pillars of sustainability was key to driving change through procurement, above and beyond the other options presented. Elaine agreed stating that if you make it simple people will do it. Matt agreed with Elaine, suggesting that we must make it easier for businesses to get on board by creating a standardised measure of social value that can be compared and reported on. He also suggested that businesses are looking at carbon in the Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Standard and that will also drive greener procurement up the supply chain and help move towards wider and clearer carbon reporting. So, the future is looking brighter in terms of business engagement and sustainable procurement, but also in terms of driving more circular economies and more local solutions.

Matt thought the role of the private sector in driving reuse was to get material back from consumers (harvesting) and to give access to this material to appropriate reuse organisations. Elaine suggested the need for greater collaboration, plus learning from each other and having models that are designed to work together. At the Edinburgh Remakery they are keen to share their experiences so others can set up Remakeries in their local towns and cities, an offer that should definitely be followed up by interested parties (her details are in the webinar slides).

Matt had previously commented that it is cheaper to reuse a fridge than to buy new. However, it requires the operatives to handle such items with much more care than they would a traditional discarded fridge, and treat them as if they are brand new in order to give them more value. Ultimately in this case, the step change in making repair and reuse work is changing the behaviour of the individuals in the transition network, as well as the consumers.

Patrick agreed, and suggested training and educating staff at HWRCs might be needed to help change their behaviour towards reuse, and help prioritise reuse over the more traditional HWRC activities. Catherine would like to see more salvaging of parts before items go to recycling, as there are always parts that are in demand, such as washing machine door locks. However, the current compliance scheme makes this difficult, so she requests a more joined up approach from policy makers and regulators to all those in the handling chain.

Warranty/guarantee rights

Another issue referenced on many occasions within the webinar with mainstreaming reuse is the lack of warranties that are offered on reuse / repaired items. The panellists discussed whether warranties have any meaning on reused products, and how to make items more ‘valuable’ to potential consumers.

Matt discussed how Dixon Carphone can usually offer 6 months warranty on reused and repaired products. He said that it is harder to offer a warranty as items get older because it’s difficult to source parts to repair older equipment. But he acknowledged how a longer warranty offers more comfort to consumers, and makes items more appealing to purchase. He shared how they harvest parts from items that can’t be repaired, which then reduces their reliability on their supply chain to get the right parts which ultimately speeds up the repairs for the customer.

Patrick discussed how planned obsolesce leads to items not being repaired, and that items should be designed and made in a way that they are more repairable, and reusable. Patrick suggested that companies should offer a service including repairing the item, and the warranty should be part of that package of services and purchasing options.

Sarah commented that at Suez they make sure the products that are sold at their reuse shops are of a high quality, and they individually test the items and train those involved in handling them to make sure only the best items are selected for repair and reuse. Matt concurred, explaining that many of the volunteers that Dixon Carphone work with are ex white goods engineers for big brands that are coming back into the system to help local charities, which means they already have a good idea of what high standards looks like.

Patrick and Elaine discussed how organisations needs to broadcast their accreditations and standards more, such as the Revolve accreditation, which should instil confidence in consumers that the items are repaired to a high standard. Patrick agreed saying it would help those for whom second-hand would not be their preferred starting point.

In Conclusion

Over the course of the 90 minutes we explored so many inter-related and linked topics, and discussed many of the successes already happening within the sector, and the desires for future development and delivery. Our panellists summarised the discussion with some exceptionally good points concerning the valuable role that reuse should play in the circular economy and how it can deliver significant (and as yet unrecognised) social value.

Sarah concluded that reuse has the biggest impact socially, environmentally and economically for the circular economy so we need to invest in it and drive this new accounting approach forward to make sure it happens. Catherine stated how although recycling is a good way to manage resources, reuse is better. Elaine agreed declaring how reuse and repair has never been needed more and that it is good for business. Matt pointed out how we live in second hand homes, drive second hand cars, so asked what’s wrong with second hand everything else? Patrick encouraged looking out for Defra’s Waste Prevention Programme consultation which is due imminently as it is an opportunity to get reuse on the agenda and for us all to feed in ideas about policy reforms, targets and great examples of what is being achieved already.

It really was a great first webinar in this new series of deep dives, which enabled greater breadth and depth of discussion around a topic that was highlighted by audiences at previous webinars as being one needing more debate. It definitely got the audience thinking, and the panellists continues their discussions long after the webinar ended. Remember, this is not the end, it is only just the beginning in terms of reuse, repair and the policy agenda, and it is equally early doors for reporting on the social value of our polices and activities and that could be a key turning point in how we value and prioritise reuse and repair in the coming years.

We would like to thank our panellists for taking part, and providing their insights into reuse and repair, and we would like to thank the audience for asking so many great questions some of which we have reflected on in this blog, and for taking part in the polls which helped promote so much live discussion. These webinars wouldn’t be the same without such an engaged and participatory audience! In fact, we had so many questions that we have included a Q&A sheet here with some of the ones we didn’t get around to asking.

If you would like to watch the recording click here. You can register for any of the five upcoming deep dive sessions here, and why not join the ongoing discussions with other CIWM members on all things ‘hot and current’ on Connect and have your say.

Send this to a friend