Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Extreme Freegling and the waste-free office move

When my employers decided to move offices, I set myself the challenge of ensuring that we could achieve it without sending anything to landfill. A significant challenge, since we had decided that we would have all new IT equipment and furniture, but we've managed to achieve it.

If the new kit sounds extravagant, it's worth bearing in mind that most of our furniture has been in the business longer than me - and I celebrated 20 years with the company in June. Our IT assets have been seriously sweated; most of our PCs were more than 8 years old and were proving difficult to keep running. We were moving to a building that we had refurbished to SKA Gold environmental standard after it had stood vacant for several years and it would have been a pity to fill it with a mish-mash of aged furniture and IT equipment. But how to make sure we minimised our waste?

First port of call was our own staff. Reading-based colleagues were offered the opportunity to take things for their home offices - and many did. Next, we talked to our local community foundation. Connect Reading acts as an interface between business and the third sector and was happy to let its charity members know that we had items to donate. Five of its members, plus two charities with which staff had family connections, expressed an interest and were given the opportunity to visit and tag anything they wanted. Our relocation contractors, ActiveFM, agreed to deliver these items free of charge which was a major consideration - transport costs often exceed the value of second-hand furniture, making it uneconomic. Thanks to Connect Reading and Active FM, I estimate that more than half of our furniture was re-homed with local charities.

Next, ActiveFM offered second-hand furniture dealers the serviceable furniture that charities didn't want, providing some income to offset our removal costs. Some of the remaining items were adopted by our neighbours and some heavy duty racking was sold on eBay. This left us with a handful of furniture items plus sundry office supplies, kitchen and cleaning equipment. Somewhat hesitantly, I began to list these items on Freegle and was blown away by the response. We quickly found homes for two glass display cabinets (taken by a local school) and our portable wheelchair ramp (taken by a Freegler for her wheelchair-bound mum) and encouraged by this success I became more ambitious. I listed some of our less ancient monitors and these were taken by the local Freegle branch, some for the use of its volunteers and some to raise funds to keep the scheme running. Other Freeglers turned up for one item and having had a look around asked about others that hadn't been listed - as a result of which the balance of our racking was dismantled and taken away. In the end even our reception desk was Freegled - and in the process I met some lovely people and heard some great stories.

Finally, we invited Return on IT to recycle all our redundant ICT equipment. Return on IT processes e-waste according to a strict waste hierarchy that prioritises re-use and recovers materials that can be re-used in manufacturing other goods. The free service is fully WEEE compliant and sends nothing to landfill - what's more a donation to charity is made in proportion to the volume of equipment recycled.

In all I did "extreme freegling" over a period of about a week, including a Sunday spent sorting and segregating to separate the items that were suitable for re-use from those that would have to be recycled. And because the network had been decommissioned at the old offices, some late nights were spent on my home PC processing Freegle requests and making contact with those who wanted the things we no longer needed. It was more time-consuming and demanded more thought than simply getting a clearance company in, but as a result we've managed to minimise the cost of moving, deliver real community benefit and not a single item has been sent to landfill.

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