Reuse Network Annual Conference: building a society where everyone can create a sustainable home

Posted on the 5th October 2023

Ahead of the Reuse Network Annual Conference 2023, Craig Anderson, CEO of Reuse Network introduces some of the themes we’ll be addressing at the event and how we need to work together to create a society where everyone can create a sustainable home.

The state of the UK economy, the cost-of-living crisis, and the evidence of climate change make many feel it is all out of our control. What power do we have to insist or make changes in society to bring about change and reduce the impacts we all feel during our daily lives?

Energy use and cost, plus transport use and cost, have the biggest bearing on the economy and environment, but so do products that we all use every day. I don’t mean the disposable stuff we put in our bins, but products we have come to rely on in our homes to live comfortably and securely; a bed for the kids, a table to put food onto, and washing machines to clean clothes to name but a few. What if you did not have these? Some households go without food and don’t use appliances to save on their energy costs.

The cost-of-living crisis and bed poverty

Recent research has shown that families in crisis cannot replace a broken bed because doing so would mean going without essentials like food or heating. A report published last month by Barnardo’s found that there are over 1 million families in the UK where parents have given up their own beds, so their child had somewhere to sleep, and 6% of children slept on the floor due to not having their own bed.

Reuse Network has been dealing with the issue of bed poverty and with this specific type of product for over 30 years, and things have never been as tough as they are today. We have seen a drop in product donations because people are holding on to goods for longer than before and are buying less new to save money. The saving to low-income families the sector supports has fallen from £450 million per year to £350 million per year – a huge impact but this drop shows we can still do more. The wider retail sector suffers a drop in sales, and we have less supply via takeback arrangements. The knock-on effects are huge.

Rising demand and shrinking resources

On the demand side, more people are coming through our charities’ doors looking for goods and the demographic of secondhand shoppers has changed dramatically.

“Reuse Network members are struggling while supporting and subsidising the loss of central funding to help people in crisis to the tune of £12 million per year from their charity’s own pockets; because that is what they are there to do and have been doing for decades”.

At the same time, we are trying to reduce the impact of these consumer goods on the environment, moving away from a linear consumption model and championing the ideals of the circular economy. This does not call for an end-of-pipe waste solution, but must engage and be driven by manufacturer, distributor, consumer, reuser, and those dealing with discarded products. And it’s not a one-trick policy pony here – it crosses policy agendas.

There’s a pull but also a pinch; the pull of doing things better for the environment while the pinch of austerity and increasing poverty holds us back from our core objectives. Where there is a total lack of leadership from Government in terms of society and the environment, we have seen for some time the emergence of the will of the commercial and corporate sector. We welcome this, they want to do more and enable these changes through our practical partnerships; to reduce their impact on the environment, and to help those most in need in society through their own social goals. The solution to all our woes may be more driven by practice rather than policy.

Rising to the challenge

At this year’s Reuse Network annual conference, we will explore three urgent aspects distinct to our reuse world that we must not or cannot avoid. We must do what we can to respond to the cost-of-living crisis; raise our sector’s profile; and promote our intention of socially driven reuse, as the only option for reuse.

We adapt to the expectations of partners, practice, and policy and to then be seen to be the foundation of the circular economy. With an updated strategic plan underpinning the Reuse Network and the sector, we are developing practical proposals to respond to three areas of need in the sector: set up regional logistical capacity to increase supply, develop new strategic partnerships to reduce poverty, and raise the roof with public campaigns and promotion of the sector.

How many crises before we act? It is about having a strong and practical response to our country’s biggest social, economic, and environmental challenges, establishing collaboration and partnerships with each other and with external but supportive partners.

“There are big issues and opportunities to be discussed and actioned at the conference to do our bit to improve society and build a sustainable solution through Reuse”.

So, what power do we have to make a difference? Through the actions of our network, big and small, we are determined to ensure that whatever the scale of our impact, it contributes to a better society and environment.

We want and we will deliver a society where everyone can create a sustainable home.

The Reuse Network Annual Conference takes place on 10 October 2023, in Manchester. You can see the full programme here, and follow the conversation on our social channels: Twitter and LinkedIn #ReuseWithPurpose and #ReuseConf23.


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