Waste not want not: The furniture recycling scheme helping people and the planet

By Warren Carlon, director of communities at Salix Homes

The UK has got a huge waste problem.

We’ve all seen the scary statistics on plastic waste and the impact it’s having on our environment, but furniture waste is also a major issue too.

Every year, we throw away 1.6million tonnes of furniture and bulky items, which is either buried in landfill sites or incinerated.

To put it into context, 1.6 million tonnes is the equivalent mass of around 10,000 blue whales. That’s every year. Just in the UK.

The green agenda and the drive towards Net Zero is amongst the most pressing issues facing the social housing sector today – and rightly so.

But as housing associations are considering their green strategies, we’d urge them to think beyond just retrofitting of inefficient homes. Whilst this is clearly the biggest nut to crack, there are also, shorter-term strategies, which can help make a difference to our planet – and our people.

Two years ago, Salix Homes launched our pioneering furniture recycling scheme. Initially it was a way to make better use of furniture and household items left behind in our void properties, but has proven to be much more.

We live in a throw away society and as voids teams will know, people often move on leaving perfectly useable items of furniture behind.

Previously, it was standard practice to throw anything left behind away. But it was a crying shame to see good quality furniture dumped at landfill sites, when we had tenants living without sofas, beds or a dining table to feed their family on.

We knew there must be a better and more sustainable way, which would help our tenants and the environment.

Our eco-friendly scheme works by recycling unwanted furniture, household items and white goods and then giving it away for free to our customers who need it most.

Since it launched, we’ve seen more than 1,800 items comes through our warehouse doors and diverted 180 tonnes of furniture away from landfill sites.

The furniture is either donated by customers or has been left behind when a resident moves out of their home. If it’s good quality and fit for use, it’s collected by our team saving it from being dumped in a landfill site or even fly-tipped on the streets.

People who are struggling can come down to our warehouse and pick what they need to help make their house into a home. This includes people that have fallen on hard times, refugees and women escaping domestic violence.

To date, we’ve helped more than 400 tenants experiencing financial hardship, and for some it’s proved a lifeline, particularly for people hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For new tenants in particular, furnishing a home is expensive and many just aren’t in the position to buy everything new. Often, they’re having to choose between buying furniture or paying their rent, but thanks to this scheme, people who are struggling can come down to our warehouse and pick what they need to help avoid them going into debt.

Bricks and mortar don’t make a home - people and possessions do, and the scheme goes beyond essential furniture – we can provide lamps, mirrors, ornaments – whatever people choose that gives them a sense of pride in their home.

If the human and environmental impact isn’t incentive enough – the scheme is also proving incredibly cost-effective. To date, we’ve saved £35,000 in tipping costs, which is money that can be better spent on our homes and communities.

So, as other housing associations do look towards their green strategies – we’d urge you to consider similar schemes and help do your bit for people and the planet.