Localism, Localism, Localism

Dr. Purva Tavri (Researcher and Chartered Waste Manager) explores localism, and what it means for the reuse sector.

Currently, the world is going through one of those unprecedented times that in future will be refereed and memorised for losses, bereavement, isolation, poverty, and many other socio-economic challenges the society is going through. Nonetheless, will also be remembered for caring, togetherness, humanity, sustainability, digitisation, and many other social, environmental, and digital activities this pandemic has unleased or brought forward. One such element that has always been an integral part of sustainability and is being proved to be even more crucial is the ‘power of localism’.

Easy access to the services or having local services has been identified by Barr (2007)[1] in one of his waste management behaviour studies as a key factor in facilitating recycling behaviour among residents. Localism is indeed identified as one of the key requirements for facilitating reuse activities by the organisations (10 corporations and 9 of their reuse supply chain Third Sector Organisations) that formed part of my PhD research (2012-2020).

My research findings show that primary motivation to reuse activities among corporations is profitability, which is because the Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) they partner with has localism as one of the elements, among others. A local-level TSO, who is a partner of one of the high street retailers said that “as we are local to the area and have the space and logistics for managing the reuse of bulky furniture, it brings economic benefit to the retailer”. The TSO explained their working framework by saying that “our model works by providing the profitability to the businesses involved, which includes essentially how much value is in the waste, what is the cost of getting it somewhere [where] the higher value [can be reclaimed], and how high is that value when it arrives at that place”.

In similar lines, a national-level TSO, who is partnered with local-level charities/TSOs throughout the country for enabling accessibility of reusable bulky furniture to residents said that “collaboration with us help high street retailers to handle the reuse materials, and they started seeing it as an environmental benefit and providing support to the community through reuse”. Likewise, one of their retail partners agreed that our long-term partnership is because this national-level TSO has the requisite space, logistics and connections with local-level TSOs. Similar is the case with the reuse of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).

The intention of benefiting the community not just adds value to corporations Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) but also give them a chance to support local people in need. This pandemic is evident whereby big food retailers have partnered with several local-level TSOs and charities who are distributing food and essentials to individuals suffering from food poverty. This is indeed identified as one of the motivating factors in my research, whereby food retailers are partnering with TSOs to distribute unsold or surplus food. Localism is one of the key factors that makes this collaboration economically viable for corporations and brings social benefit.

Within the construction industry, which is responsible for producing almost 50% of waste in the UK, lack of localism along with space and logistics presents a huge challenge to carrying out reuse activities. One of the companies I interviewed said that “time and infrastructure are major constraints. For some projects, we must make decisions very quickly, and in that type of project, we could only think of reuse if we have time to stack things up in a proper manner and if someone wants to take it”. In these scenarios lack of local-level TSO (who can either take away the items or to whom the materials can be donated) results in recycling and landfill. The organisations interviewed indicated that reuse/reclaim of construction materials certainly has profitability and enables diverting materials from landfill. However, due to the lack of local-level organisations to distribute and a lack of a centralised system that provides a database of local-level reuse/reclaim spaces, they do not always consider reuse as the first option.

My research finds that in the reuse TSOs market, national-level TSOs require partnerships and must build links with local-level TSOs, charities, communities, or social enterprises to make reuse the first ‘call’ for corporations. Essentially, collaboration across different levels and sectors is the key factor for making reuse work, and the dynamic force in these collaborative partnerships is often the ‘LOCAL’ TSOs. ‘Power of localism’ to achieve sustainability is further evident in one of my publications – ‘School of Arts at Kingston University: turning wood waste into resource – Circular Online’.

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