BAN Waste Select Committee evidence

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Phase 1 Day 3 2001-10-04 David Malone (Children's Warehouse, Newcastle)

report from minutes of Select Committee


Submitted: Report on the operation of the above (previously circulated and copy in Official Minute Book)

The Chair welcomed David Malone of The Children's Warehouse to the meeting.

Mr Malone explained that The Children's Warehouse had started collecting waste materials for use with children and young people back in 1979, and had now evolved to the point where although the project no longer did any direct work, it provided reuse material for over 1100 members, providing creative activities to over 10,000 children and young people. Over 3000 tonnes of clean, safe, useful waste from businesses throughout the North East was collected each year.

Mr Malone suggested that there was perhaps a tendency for manufacturers to over-order material such as cardboard boxes. Specific reference was made to a company which had run out of packaging for lamp shades, but at the same time was throwing away packaging. However, at the prompting of the Children's Warehouse, that firm had invested in equipment to convert said packaging for lamp shades (a scheme which had proved so successful that the company were now selling packaging to other companies).

Mr Malone showed examples of waste material and its `cascade' effect (e.g. tinsel and holographic film), together with material destined for landfill due to companies not thinking ahead. Reference was made to promotional material produced by companies, destined for tipping but put to good use elsewhere (for example, pallets of pencils which were sent to Africa) During his presentation, Mr Malone made specific reference to computer disposal (65% of which ended up in cupboards) and the potentially damaging effects of chemicals therein. Also, they contained precious metal such as gold and silver, which had been `hard won' in the first place. Since there were people who could not afford new computers in the first place, it seemed illogical not to consider refurbishment.

After Mr Malone's presentation, the following questions were asked:-

(1) What proportion of systems supplied to the Children's Warehouse get passed on substantially in their own form, and what proportion get stripped for individual components to be reused, or for the systems to be re-built with a mixture of original and new components? (June Wolf)

Mr Malone stated that the organisation only brought in clean, safe materials with potential creative use. Larger items were not `cannibalised'. By and large, people came to take material away. A donation of �2.00 per bin bag was requested as a handling charge.

(2) How do you source your supplies of used computers? Can you estimate what proportion of those available this is? (Will Haughan)

Mr Malone replied that his organisation was not in a position to `source'. Contact was `word of mouth'. However, attempts were being made to set up a specific computer project via fund raising. It was not therefore possible to give an accurate estimate at present. Discussions had been taking place with North Tyneside Council and, recently, Newcastle City Council - it having been noted that local authorities upgraded their computers every 2 years

(3) Is the constant pressure to upgrade from the software industry a barrier to re- use of equipment? (Geoff Stokle)

Mr Malone reported that this was not a barrier. Most office applications would easily run on systems that were, say, 3 years old. It was still possible to utilise old computers, which were upgradeable.

(4) For some aspects of a networked IT system, much lower-specification equipment is sufficient than would be expected to be used for a stand-alone work station. Are Universities, schools or other large institutions involved in taking over any old equipment? (Phil Capon)

Mr Malone reported that Newcastle had a `cascade' system, whereby people with lesser requirements did not have the same need for speed etc. So it could be passed down through an organisation before ending up in a skip or cupboard.

(5) Many `alternative' operating systems and programmes (such as Linux) can be designed to operate on much lower-specification equipment. Are you aware of any schools or groups that use such systems on old hardware? Could they be promoted further as a way of resisting the `upgrade' cycle that leads to so much computer equipment being replaced each year? (Geoff Stokle)

Mr Malone suggested that Microsoft tended to be ubiquitous. This presented a stumbling block. If software was donated, it helped. Whereas a computer could be sold to someone for �50, it might cost �100 to make the software work.

(6) What could the City Council do to help you in your work and help you to expand your service? (Eric Landau)

Mr Malone stated that the City Council had been assisting the organisation for over 10 years. It currently funded The Children's Warehouse in the sum of �38,000 (although this figure had been �90,000 when the enterprise first began). A rebate project was currently being initiated, to collect surplus parts.

Phil Capon queried how successful Mr Malone considered The Children's Warehouse to have been in terms of its location. Mr Malone replied that it had moved to Carliol Square 3 years from premises in Pilgrim Street (in effect, having been paid to move out because of property development). Carliol Square had a 9- year lease (compared to the 3 year lease at Pilgrim Street). The `downside' of the situation was the fact that there was less space. The last survey undertaken had revealed that 30/40% of `customers' visited the premises by means of public transport. There were parking problems.

Bill Colwell queried whether work could be skilled-up to an adult operation. Mr Malone confirmed that this was currently being considered. Historically, funding had come from the `play' side (0-25 years), but the organisation would like to broaden the operation out as a community resource. There was a wish to become a central, super-warehouse centrally; servicing `satellite', outlying premises. In response to Bill Colwell's query on the danger of being inundated with large quantities of material that could not be `moved', Mr Malone pointed out that assessment was undertaken at the point of collection. Less than 2.5% ended up tipped or recycled. However, if the organisation moved larger quantities still, space would be a crucial issue and would have to be considered seriously.

Bill Hopwood queried whether the organisation would cope, from the point of view of computers, if all the major organisations in Newcastle donated their used PCs. Mr Malone pointed out that possibly 40% of computers received would be `dead', requiring the equipment to be dismantled and broken down for recycling; so there was a workload capacity issue here. However, there was a project operating in the South of the country which was taking in 2000/3000 computers per week (Mr Malone undertook to pass on details). With regards to the cost of undertaking a scheme to sell on to schools, this would cost �50 for a 486/66 and up to �120 for a Pentium machine. This was also dependant on extra memory required.

The Chair queried what proportion of over-produced material was being collected from firms. Mr Malone suggested that this was only 1% or 2%, but this was the tip of the iceberg. The initiative for collection largely came from The Children's Warehouse. (The cost of disposal/ over-production/landfill was often built into business costs). The Chair suggested that in one sense the organisation was not actually stopping material from going to landfill, but redirecting material. Did the organisation suggest that, say, schools bring back to the organisation the waste material that had been redirected to them for proper disposal. Mr Malone reported that next year a student from Newcastle University's environmental department would be working with The Children's Warehouse to maximise their environmental message.

Sylvia Conway queried how the organisation publicised their operation to schools. Mr Malone suggested that there was room for improvement here, but funds for publicity were limited. School mailings took place via the local authority.

Nick Fray made reference to the reduction of funding from the local authority and queried whether this downturn was a reflection of Newcastle City Council's attitude to recycling. Mr Malone suggested that the organisation had not been seen until recently as a contributor to environmental impact. It had been funded for the `play' aspect. However, there was ongoing and developing dialogue with the City Council's Recycling Officer.

Mike Rabley queried whether there was potential for funding a computer- recycling scheme via the Waste Consortium. Mr Malone replied that they were interested in any sources of funding.

The Chair queried whether it would have a negative or positive effect on The Children's warehouse market if computer manufacturers had to take their product back. Mr Malone suggested that this was in fact happening at IBM in America, and he preferred to see this development.

At this stage, the Chair thanked Mr Malone for his attendance.