Resource Work Cooperative: Waste reduction in action

01 July 2020

The theme for International Day of Co-operatives 2020 is combatting climate change and highlighting the work that co-operatives do to promote sustainability and ethical practices.

Resource Work Cooperative is a worker-owned waste reduction cooperative based in Hobart. The co-op employs 33 paid workers, 25 of which are active members and owners of the business.

Coordinator Molly Kendall says that promoting the circular economy and reducing landfill is a big part of what the co-operative does.

“Our main bread and butter is a large second hand re-use shop,” she told BCCM.

“We also specialise in e-waste recycling. Australia has relied heavily on overseas processors for its recycling needs as there is virtually no infrastructure to process onshore. The waste industry is profit-driven, which is bad for environmental and worker rights outcomes. There is huge scope for ethically driven enterprises to enter into the waste management space, we believe cooperatives can fill that gap.”

Ms Kendall says workers have noted a significant change in the stream volumes of different items of e-waste. They believe that fast-moving smart TV technology is to blame, causing televisions to quickly become obsolete.

“TVs have sadly become our fastest increasing eWaste stream with very low potential for re-use,” she says.

The other major challenge for the co-operative is printers, which are becoming a significant environmental problem. Modern printer ink costs more than new printers, meaning that functional printers are often discarded.

“We struggle to sell printers second-hand in our shop for this same reason,” she explains. “This past year we responsibly recycled almost 90 metric tonnes of e-waste which included 33.8 tonnes of computers, 25.6 tonnes of TVs and 10.5 tonnes of printers.”

The co-operative says it achieves the greatest re-use outcome with computers. By manually dismantling computers onsite they can both achieve a higher reuse value for each component and ensure the rest is recycled to Australian standards. What’s more, dismantling onsite creates jobs locally and preserves the greatest inherent value of each part.

For the organisation, the co-operative model is central to what they do.

“Being part of a cooperative means mission is more important than profit and we can prioritise our mission, to provide local paid employment and reduce waste, by pre-processing ewaste at our co-operative.”

What is the circular economy?

“The circular economy means capturing and preserving the greatest inherent value of an object at each stage of its life lifecycle,” says Ms Kendall.

“In the case of a computer which is unwanted, you could throw it into a huge industrial shredder, melt it down and recycle it.  Recycling is the lowest rung of the waste hierarchy because it is always down-cycling the inherent qualities are lost. Higher on the pyramid is re-use, reconditioning or repair.  To preserve the greatest value of the computer you would test it, clean out its storage and memory and re-use.”

If a broken computer cannot be repaired, the co-operative takes it apart by hand and separates each component for re-use.  This can include the memory, heat sync, central processing unit, hard drive and even memory.

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