Going Circular - Old furniture, new home


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Bridget Jackson: Best estimates are that there are about 3.5million pieces of furniture which are discarded from offices every year.  That is about 180,000 tonnes so that is a sizeable amount.  We think that there is only about 14% of it which is re-used, that 86% of it goes to landfill and that only 0.2% is recycled, recoverable materials in it.

Craig Anderson: In some cases, it is about how people dispose of the products.  They have no use for it so there is a mentality with people that if I don’t want it no one wants it. 

Avoiding landfill

Bridget Jackson: At PwC we have about 19,000 people and they all work out of offices.  There is about 330 tonnes of waste generated each year as we refresh and renew the furniture.  If you think about what furniture is made of, it is going to be either wood or plastic or metal.  These are all raw materials which we want to keep in circulation in the economy for as long as possible.  We thought there must be a better way to handle that than just to stick it in a landfill. 

Craig Anderson: Landfill waste is an old way of doing it. As a reuse sector we already extend the life of products and that is really what the circular economy is looking at, it is about a cultural behavioural change.  It is about thinking once I have had use of it could it be used elsewhere?  Does it have value?

Carl Gearing: Reuse seemed to be the right way because then you are not stripping it down, you are giving it to someone else and some of the things could last another 10 years, so we started working a lot more with charities.

Donating our old furniture 

So, for example, when we refurbished and renovated the Southampton office we donated furniture from there to the Meningitis Research Foundation. 

Mike Taylor: Meningitis Research Foundation has been in existence for over 26 years.  We focus primarily on funding research; we also provide a lot of support to people who have been unfortunate enough to have an experience of the disease. The organisation was based about 12 miles outside Bristol until late last year.  We felt we wanted to step up a gear and raise our profile, to do that we needed to move into the centre of Bristol.  By chance I was introduced to Steve Sliney at Collect Eco, he said that he was working with PwC down in Southampton and that they had a lot of desks in really good condition that they would be willing to donate.  

Steven Sliney: Collect Eco’s role is to facilitate reuse and we work with organisations which want to do the right thing with their unwanted furniture, equipment and materials, whether they are re-locating premises, whether they are refurbishing premises or whether they are just simply having a clear out. You can see the commercial stuff that comes in here anything up from the filing cabinet, the desks, pedestals, everything you might get from a normal office.  Rather than that stuff going off to be recycled or to landfill we want to pass it on to organisations that need it.  Now these lockers here are from PwC in Southampton, so they are an example of how we are able to look after stuff until we are able to find a home for it. 

Bridget Jackson: Of course sometimes our furniture needs to be adapted before it can be reused.

Mike Taylor: When I told Steve that the desks were going to be too long he introduced me to The Factory which is a Bristol based organisation and they were able to cut the desks down 

Reuse through remanufacturing 

Justin Ricks: We are part of Knowle West Media Centre which is a local charity based in Bristol. A social enterprise which has digital manufacturing capability as well as traditional woodworking facilities.  We are part of a circular economy in Bristol and where we fit in the chain is that we are involved in remanufacturing.

Steven Sliney: We knew of The Factory and we had seen the quality of their work in one of the local business parks 

Justin Ricks: It was really about us using those pieces of material to upcycle or remanufacture to fit.

Steven Sliney: High end design can still be linked to reuse and you can actually give someone a very nice product.

Beyond environmental benefits 

Mike Taylor: There is no way I could have gone and brought desks of this quality.  I know these desks will last us for years and years and years.  It has been worth thousands and thousands of pounds to us really.

Justin Ricks: The whole purpose of the centre is not only to work as a business but to train and develop local people, not only in carpentry but some real employability skills.  Obviously going right back to PwC donating the furniture, the Meningitis Research Foundation work was a great example of how that work actually creates a great social impact.

Bridget Jackson: It really has not been that difficult for us to set up.  We donate 95%.  The rest of it is dismantled and the parts are recovered and recycled so nothing is going to landfill.

Craig Anderson: It saves money as waste costs.

Bridget Jackson: We don’t have to pay the costs associated with landfill so we estimate that there is about an 80% saving in terms of cost and that easily covers the cost of taking it to wherever it is going to be used next. 

Craig Anderson: What our sector has done in the last decade or so is changed itself to meet the corporate need but also help the corporate meet the social need, so really it is about how the commercial and corporate sector can work with us because we cannot do it alone.  

Carl Gearing: People have responded well when they know that the furniture is being reused.  I am ever so proud of what we have achieved. 

Contact us

Marissa Thomas

Marissa Thomas

Managing Partner & Chief Operating Officer, PwC United Kingdom