Much of the material that ends up in landfill could have been recycled, or better, reused. This is especially true for larger household items such as furniture which have often not reached the end of their service life and, maybe after some repair work, could easily find a new use. Additionally, Municipalities in Europe are under increasing pressure from authorities to reduce their reliance on landfill. As well as EU wide targets, in the UK gate fees and taxes mean that costs relating to landfill continue to spiral upwards. Therefore every tonne that can be diverted from landfill represents an economic as well as an environmental saving.
In the year 2000, Liverpool City Council reorganised their waste collection activities, creating a separate contract for the collection of large household waste. This was won by Bulky Bob’s, a social business created by the FRC Group, a charity dedicated to distributing furniture to those in need.
The contract allows Liverpool City Council to define a specific list of bulky waste items that can be collected. Bulky Bob’s then carries out collections in the most convenient way for residents - collecting all items in one go, so residents only need to make one appointment.
Reflecting the objective of the FRC Group, Bulky Bob’s prioritises reuse, reselling at discount prices to low-income citizens in one of its dedicated furniture stores. Some items which are not suitable for reuse when they are collected are brought up to standard through repairing and refurbishing.
When reuse is not an option, all efforts are made to recycle. As a result up to 65% of the total bulky waste stream is diverted from landfill – 55 tonnes in 2013. Bulky Bob’s service typically adds 1% to 1.5% to a local authority’s overall recycling performance.
As well as being better for the environment - reusing wooden furniture saves 109 times more carbon emissions than recycling it – Bulky Bob’s service further contributes by supporting local communities. Not only does it organise the provision of quality furniture to low-income households, Bulky Bob’s is also providing training to the long-term unemployed and incarcerated.
On the back of its success in Liverpool, Bulky Bob’s has won additional contracts in North-West England, with Oldham, Warrington and Halton councils.
A large reason for the success of Bulky Bob’s is its joined-up approach – spanning the initial collection and sorting all the way to repair (if needed) and delivery to a new user. This helps to create a number of efficiencies, and maintains clarity of overall vision.
Innovation ensures the continued success of the initiative. Bulky Bob’s invests time and resources to find new ways to work with the waste stream to maximise their performance, achieving higher recycling levels each year.
The business model itself has good transferability. Many municipalities face a similar challenge, and Bulky Bob’s has shown impressive scalability, growing from the ground to service a medium-sized city such as Liverpool (population 500,000). Through its different income streams, Bulky Bob’s was also able to become economically self-sufficient and sustainable. However, Bulky Bob’s benefited from the existing network of the FRC Group, and it may be difficult, in the short-term at least, to replicate such a ‘joined-up’ service in other cities. Bulky Bob’s is an estimated TRL8.