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Green Collect leads the way for circular outcomes

Started more than 20 years ago by Sally Quinn and Darren Andrews, it has been the remit of Green Collect to provide new employment in the resource recovery sector for people who face barriers to employment while also creating a resource recovery collection point for a variety of problematic waste streams.

In 2001, its first pilot project focused on the hospitality industry, which led to more than 4.5 tonnes of cork being diverted from landfill. Today, the enterprise delivers circular solutions for a diverse range of resources, predominantly office waste streams, including office furniture, electronics and desktop items while also fulfilling its original mission to create high quality employment for those previously unable to enter the labour market due to disability, language barriers and disadvantage.

“Extending the lifespan of resources is one of our main goals, particularly in relation to office items,” said Quinn. “We process all items with great care, testing and refurbishing to make sure items can get back into circulation. We’re also creating products out of materials that are torn down so that they can be reused again in their current form, rather than going through an energy-intensive recycling process.”

Quinn highlights the important differences between the words reduce, reuse, and recycle. She states Green Collect’s main purpose is to work progressively down the waste hierarchy, prioritising finding suitable reuse outcomes for millions of individual items, over lower value resource recovery outcomes such as recycling and energy recovery.

“From something as small as a paperclip through to a whole office building, we can deliver the highest circular outcomes for each of the items,” she said.

The organisation also delivers re-commerce services, selling products that come through its doors – much like a second-hand store of old – but concentrating on high impact office procurement. Green Collect’s showroom and three stores, including an online store, present a range of furniture, electrical and stationery options for those wanting to achieve social procurement targets. Through Green Collect it’s possible to set up an entire office with quality reused items and in doing so to achieve measurable social and environmental outcomes.

“We have about 40 staff who work to identify the best outcome for all of those things,” she said. “There’s a real kind of buzz of innovation with the work that we do with materials to achieve those ends.”

Quinn has recognised the changing mindset of organisations over the past few years, with social license and responsibility receiving higher value than ever before. The effects of this shift towards sustainability and accountability has helped Green Collect’s mission reach a more diverse client base with growing and complex needs.

“Corporates undertaking a massive fit-out won’t necessarily look at purchasing second-hand; instead, their sustainability focus might be on supply chain and materials use. However, many of these companies are looking for better environmental outcomes when it comes to end of life solutions for assets and office de-fits.” she said. “For office fit-outs, we’re seeing more and more SMEs wanting to purchase sustainably and save money, and expressing their values through the way they set up their offices.”

Since its inception, Green Collect has been dedicated to training and supporting employees who might not fit into mainstream working environments, but have found a home in the way Quinn’s organisation does business.

“About 60 per cent of our workforce is made up of people who would usually be shut out from the mainstream labour market,” she said. “That includes at-risk youth, people who’ve come as refugees, and people with disabilities. We don’t distinguish between who’s who but value our diversity as an asset to the business and our organisational culture. We are committed to removing barriers so that anyone who wants to work can do so. By focusing on people’s strengths and passions it’s not hard to find people whose values are aligned with ours, especially in this time when people are acutely aware of our climate crisis and want to work in organisations that are working for a better world. We have about 80 staff, with the majority bringing lived experience of disadvantage, which often means they have high-level problem solving skills and resourcefulness.”

Looking to the future, is Green Collect looking to expand into different waste streams? Quinn said that research and innovation is at the core of Green Collect and that they’re continually looking at ways to recover a wider range of product types and how to divert them to higher value circular economy outcomes. While concentrating its business on those items found in the office environment, it also works with local government to enable households to avoid sending hard-to-recycle items to landfill. It facilitates council recycling stations whereby constituents can bring in small electronic items, stationery, X-rays and other items that can’t go in a comingled council bin and shouldn’t go to landfill.

“We’ve doubled our operation in the past three years,” said Quinn. “We have scaled, and we’re continuing to do that, because there’s a growing commitment in all sectors for social and environmental sustainability and increasing demand for our services. No one quite does what Green Collect offers in bringing together a ‘people and planet’ approach that delivers tangible social and environmental impacts. We report back to our customers for their ESG reporting around job creation and training. We also report on C02 emissions avoided and waste diverted from landfill.”

One of Green Collect’s recent expansions has been to partner with TOMRA Cleanaway in Victoria for Victoria’s Container Deposit Scheme, CDS Vic. The scheme rewards participating Victorians with a 10c refund for every eligible drink bottle, carton and can returned to a CDS Vic refund point.

Through this partnership, Green Collect has been able to diversify its service offering and provide a bulk drink container processing facility called a depot. Depots enable customers with commercial quantities of drink containers to gain their refunds and have their materials processed quickly and conveniently.

“For customers or businesses with large volumes of containers, dropping by a depot is a great option in preference to the reverse vending machines, plus it’s super interesting to see the scheme operating at scale,” said Quinn.

“Depots are specifically designed for customers who are looking to raise funds or trying to derive an income through CDS Vic, where they can bring in larger volumes. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for commercial venues to gain or donate some money out of their waste items.”

When asked about the decision to get involved in CDS Vic, Quinn said that as a leading social enterprise, Green Collect was keen to be part of delivering on the Victorian government’s objective to achieve positive social and environmental impacts through the scheme. Green Collect’s position is unique, as a leading circular economy practitioner and as a social enterprise, as it strives to create systemic changes in different facets of the sustainability landscape, which includes this partnership with CDS Vic.

“While we trade to create jobs and create impact, our main purpose is to create a more inclusive and sustainable world,” she said. “We want to see all people and resources valued and respected, and this purpose is at the heart of all our business, operational and employment practices. If we want healthy people, we need to have a healthy planet, and so Green Collect’s mission is all about realising the potential of all people and all resources. In doing this work every day we’re getting closer to eliminating the notion of waste through delivering services that lead to regenerative ways of living and working.”

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