Putting reuse at the heart of policy-making

Posted on the 18th June 2021

It’s not often that government consultations are compared to buses, but with the Reuse Network submitting two responses in as many days, the analogy is easy to make. The first being the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) consultation on the Waste Prevention Programme, the second being the Office for Product Safety Standards (OPSS) on product safety.

Although the two consultations were with different government departments asking diverging questions, our responses to these had markedly similar themes: showing the intrinsic links between waste prevention and product safety and highlighting their possible impacts on the reuse sector as a whole. Reuse Network has long argued that reuse operations, which is at the heart of the circular economy agenda, cannot expand without having product safety at its core.

Making social value count

In both consultations, we argued that, for too long, the huge social value our members bring to their local communities has often been overlooked by decision-makers. The social impact is seen both in terms of the plethora of incredible community projects our members run, and the provisions of affordable furniture to low-income households and those in situations of need. Consequently, in line with the Social Value Act, Reuse Network strongly advocates for the meaningful inclusion of the social value of reuse in the decision-making process.

The social dimension cannot be uncoupled from the economic. If Reuse Network members were to cease existing overnight, the burden of the cost of social services they provide would inevitably be passed onto Local Authorities. Therefore Reuse Network would like to see this net cost-benefit for taxpayers being priced into policy decisions. We welcome the prospect of Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEPs) helping the establishment of circular economy hubs, and the National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research (NICER) programme, as this means investment in the reuse industry. Ultimately this will lead to fewer products entering the waste stream and a reduction in carbon emissions across the board.

Better enforcement of regulations

Reuse Network put forward the case that existing regulations need better enforcement. Our members would like to see Trading Standards be more proactive in clamping down on unscrupulous traders outside the Network, who cut corners and sell dangerous ‘reused’ products to the public, to the detriment of the reuse sector as a whole. Reuse Network also called for DEFRA to explore a more robust regulatory framework to enforce the Waste Hierarchy in strategic decisions.

Making product reparability a right

In both consultations, it was recognised that reuse will face an uphill battle without significant changes to the quality and manufacture of products put on the market. Our members welcome initiatives to improve the reusability and quality of products put on the market, including the demand for significantly longer warranties, and an end to the era of built-in obsolescence. Reuse Network proposed adopting a new initiative similar to that set-up in France, whereby products are rated by their durability and ease of repair, allowing consumers to make more informed choices.

Proposals to make it mandatory for manufactures to publish repair manuals for ‘professional repairers’ were cautiously welcomed by the Reuse Network, with the caveat that there needs to be a process in place to define the ambiguous term ‘professional repairer’. Training is likely to be one of the key areas of focus for the reuse industry in the years ahead.

Education and awareness

Other key themes from both consultations included the need for better information for the reuse sector. Reuse Network is in the process of updating extensive guidance for the industry thanks to funding from Eco-Surety. ‘Fit for Reuse’ will bring together updated regulations, standards and best practices for the repair and reuse of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) from across the sector. Reuse Network suggested educating consumers about the options for repair and reuse via a targeted marketing campaign.

We will have to wait for the outcomes of both consultations, but it is the hope that policymakers begin to join the dots between product safety and circular economy policies. However, despite the constructive criticisms made in both consultations, it’s an exciting time to be at the heart of reuse, and we welcome being on board with where this journey leads.

Further information on each consultation can be found here (both consultations are now closed).

DEFRA Waste Prevention Programme: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/waste-and-recycling/waste-prevention-programme-for-england-2021/

OPSS Product Safety: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/uk-product-safety-review-call-for-evidence

About the writer

Matt Burnell

Technical Policy Research Officer at Reuse Network

Matt Burnell joined us as Technical Policy Research Officer back in March to re-write Fit for Reuse thanks for funding from Eco-surety. He's pretty savvy on all things WEEE and policy!

Read more posts...

PWP licence and registration

As of 1 January 2016, the Reuse Network Product Weight Protocol (PWP), formally known as the FRN Average Weights List, requires the purchase of an annual licence from the Reuse Network.

Friday 05th February 2021