Wednesday 19 March 2014

Rubbish pleasures: Can you find happiness in reducing waste?

I've been pondering lately. 

I'm not sure why I need to qualify it with 'lately'.  I'm always pondering.  Pondering is something I continuously do.

And the thing that's got my braincells sparking this time is the subject of happiness and how more and more people who we nudge along through The Rubbish Diet are expressing a real sense of pleasure at the end of it.

The family that I helped in last year's 'Throwaway Britain' documentary captured this perfectly, when discussing their slimmed bin:
"When you lift it up to see such a little bag after two weeks it's absolutely a joy." said Graham Heap, whose family took the challenge to reduce their waste in just two weeks. He added "I never ever thought that the size of my rubbish bags would put a smile on my face."

I raised this point recently at a TEDx talk that I gave at Cambridge University earlier this month.  My talk was about how as individuals we have the power to revolutionise waste.  Helping to innovate the economy through recycling more, supporting our local communities by paying more attention to reuse opportunities and how when we focus on reducing what's left in our bin, our creativity excels in finding new solutions to abate waste.

And I ended with Graham's quote, whose family had to quickly develop new routines, embed whole new habits and reorganise their recycling very differently in order to reduce their waste so drastically.  For many, that would seem a total palaver.  Yet for the Heaps, the positive results and personal successes outweighed any former perceived hassles.

The Heaps aren't the first to express such surprise pleasure at reducing their waste so drastically.  I'd felt the immense rewards myself back in 2008 after I did that Zero Waste Week and there will be many others who had done so beforehand too.  

But it's only recently that I've started thinking about this feel-good factor in more depth and it's an area that I'd like to understand more.  For six years I've been talking rubbish and helping people take steps to reduce their waste and I'm going to carry on doing that.  However, where I was once just happy with the results of people's Rubbish Diet endeavours, the more I witness individual's and community success stories, the more intrigued I am to understand some of the science behind these unexpected 'rubbish pleasures'.

What really drives people like myself to strive towards a massive waste reduction target during a Zero Waste Week? 

Is it because we are natural goal-seekers who love beating targets?  Is it because we feel accountable to whoever has set the challenge?  Is it that fantastic feeling when we exceed our own expectations?  Is it the surprise that we discover in ourselves or possibly the innovation beyond our bins that captures our imaginations?

Perhaps it's the positive sense of well-being brought by being an active part of the waste solution after years of being part of the problem?  Perhaps it's the joy of saving money that we would have once thrown away as rubbish in our bins?  Or perhaps it's enjoying our belongings for much much longer?

I know for one thing, there is an amazing sense of satisfaction in not having to put out the rubbish bin so often.  And there lies a happy moment at its simplest.

From practical reasons to those that are more difficult to define and reach, I know that everyone's level of pleasure will be different and will be dependent on their individual motivation.

So, if you're happy to share your story and discuss with me your own experience about how it feels having reduced your waste, I'd love to hear from you, either through the comments below or by email.

Equally, if your experience has led to opposing feelings, I'd love to explore these too.  I'm now crossing my fingers that taking The Rubbish Diet hasn't resulted in a household rift or - heaven help us - a divorce!!!

And if you've never done The Rubbish Diet before and fancy testing out some rubbish pleasures of your own, you could sign up to the challenge here.   But don't expect it to be a totally easy ride. Most people have various hurdles they have to overcome, many of which are often beyond our control. 

Maybe that's the true source of rubbish pleasure.  In beating down those barriers, whatever they might be.

Monday 3 March 2014

A great way for organisations to save waste and cash with WARPit

Below is a copy of my latest column for the Bury Free Press, which is published monthly.  If you've been pondering how your organisation could make better use of Reuse and push unwanted items further up the waste hierarchy, even helping your local community, then do read on.

Karen Cannard: Bury Free Press: 28 February 2014

A few weeks ago, I managed to catch up with Daniel O’Connor, the founder of WARPit, who was making a rare visit to Suffolk. I’ve been following the organisation for some time and was I curious to find out more about successful schemes that have been implemented around the UK.

In a nutshell, WARPit is an online resource redistribution system that helps organisations and departments to lend or give away surplus equipment to internal departments or external organisations that actually need it. And so far the company has helped divert over 132853kgs of waste and save its clients over £787,000 in the process.

Dan, whose background lies in waste management, created the first version of the sharing tool in 2006, using an email list like Freecycle. However, it did not offer enough control to satisfy waste and liability laws, which are a key part of an organisation’s Duty of Care. He also admits it was also ‘a bit of a scatter gun approach’. So, he started to develop bespoke software in Jan 2011, which hit the market three months later.

Now, with 70 customers around the UK, WARPit’s database & network is helping managers save procurement and disposal costs in all sorts of organisations that vary from SMEs to local authorities, schools, colleges, universities, NHS trusts, government departments and charities.

Resource distribution systems for organisations aren’t particularly new. There have been many implemented around the country using basic technology such as bulletin boards and email rings. East of England’s free Eastex network has also been in place since 2004, but has gone a little quiet in recent years.

So what’s so different about WARPit? From a user-perspective it looks very streamlined, with easy-to-use photo-loading and comprehensive listing facilities. However, it’s the links to facilities management and corporate procurement procedures that may provide a real key to its success.

In a case study of its implementation at Scotland’s University of St Andrews, it was described by the Estates Department as “a very effective stock control system, much like an asset register, so that the university is better able to manage its resource use and waste.”

And organisational savings aren’t to be sniffed at. During its three month trial of using WARPit, the university saved £4,129 in waste disposal and procurement costs. Elsewhere, WARPit’s partnership with Northumberland County Council has just won a Society of Procurement award for cutting the local authority’s purchasing costs by over £50K.

Also from a sustainability perspective, in addition to tracking the financial savings of redistributing surplus equipment, WARPit’s management reports allow organisations to analyse their carbon savings for CSR reporting too.

But what I really love about WARPit’s potential, is the opportunity to create reciprocal resource sharing networks between organisations in a town, across a whole county or indeed a whole region. And this raises the bar for developing strategic partnerships within local or regional economies.

For example, Sunderland City Council’s partnership with Voluntary Action Sunderland - which has recently been recognised with a Compact Voice award - passes on surplus resources within the council and to third sector organisations and schools in the city. The effectiveness of the system increases as more organisations join. With more resources circulating, the system serves its community better, making all partners more resilient.

Before leaving, I asked Dan about his most rewarding experience since starting WARPit.

Apparently, it was rehoming 30 pairs of unopened Ralph Lauren brogues, left by an Olympic basketball team who were staying at the University of East London.

Now that’s what I call a really huge challenge, especially as they were size 12-18s!

EXTRA UPDATE:  Please note that WARPit is free for charities.  Other subscriptions are dependent on organisation size.  

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