Recycling – from both sides of the fence

It was with a deep breath that I decided to write this blog on recycling within charity retailing; why, because as an ex-charity retailer of 30 years’ experience, and now a recycler, I have some, shall we say, honest views from both sides of the fence.

The fence for many years has been high and even topped with some barbed wire. Talking with candour, there is a certain distrust between the two sectors. Now that I have a fuller view of both sectors I would like to put forward what I believe are the main issues and misconceptions and hopefully some basic actions that will improve how the two sectors work together.

The Charity Retailer’s Perspective

  • Recyclers do not communicate well. This tends to take the form of charity shops not being informed or at best very late in the day, if a shop will not receive a collection that day.
  • Poor administrative paperwork flowing back to the charity in question.
  • A perception that the recycler really doesn’t want to listen to a charity’s complaints and/or suggestions.
  • Lack of response from the recycler’s office, not returning calls or being contactable when needed.
  • Poor service or attitude by drivers at point of collection.
  • A lack of want on the recycler’s part to attend meetings with a charity’s management or attend area meetings; generally to want to have open dialogue with the charity in question.
  • Lack of understanding about the charity sector and what it takes to manage and operate a charity shop or indeed a chain of shops.

I can say that many of the realities and/or perceptions I have listed are either wholly or partly true and should not be accepted by a charity client.

The Recycler’s Perspective

  • Charities are not very good at passing on information, which enables the recycler to carry out strong logistics and routing.
  • At times shop staff will not be as objective as they could be in terms of their collection needs, i.e. “I must have a collection as I am overflowing with rag” In reality the shop has 6 bags and the recycling company has travelled 50 miles for those bags.
  • Poor communication at Area Management level and indeed above. This takes the form of not responding to emails from recyclers and generally engaging in information sharing and dialogue.
  • A lack of understanding or indeed want to understand the other person or company’s issues or position.
  • Lack of understanding about the recycling industry and its demands operationally.
  • Using the recycler as a dumping ground; this will impact on their ability to sell product on, which will ultimately result in price decreases as the market clogs up with unsalable/unusable goods.

If an objective and honest view is taken, hopefully both charities and recyclers will recognise most of the points that I have raised.

If I can put forward what I believe to be some basic practices that will help ensure that the two sectors work more effectively together, while at the same time breaking down some of the old prejudices and mistrust.

  • Do not chase prices. Service, professionalism and communication are as important as good prices. Try to achieve a balance. If a shop is unhappy with its recycler/collector, that extra 2p per kilo will matter very little!
  • Endeavour to have payment at point of collection. If this does not work for your charity and payment is needed by BACS, do not let this drift. Charities have been bitten before!
  • Speak to other charity sector colleagues about the service they receive from their current recycler.
  • Communicate with your recycler and expect a very good level of dialogue and exchange of information.
  • Expect from your recycler, and ask for, regular meetings and information sharing.
  • Practice your own due diligence and information gathering in order that you can confront your recycler with facts and figures if you feel you are not always getting the truth about prices and service.
  • Survey your shops at least yearly to see if your shops are happy with the service they are receiving. Also, expect surveying of shops by your recycler and see if there is good correlation.
  • Do not accept poor communication, you are the customer and should have a response and service that is professional.
  • Listen to your shops, but be open minded. What is the truth about their collections, service, etc? Prove or disprove.
  • Do not accept poor service, work to an agreed Service Level Agreement and monitor against it on a regular basis.
  • Look at how you communicate with your recycler at both shop and management level. Is it as good as it could be?

Staff in both sectors are busy, but most of what I have mentioned is basic and does not take that much effort and/or time. Good and sustainable recycling income, delivered with first rate service in a rounded professional way is achievable, but only If both sectors are fair minded and communicate well.

It is vital that both sectors mutually sustain themselves and work together. If this does not happen the recycling market will decline and then a charity shop’s rag will have very little value, which in turn will potentially leave it uncollected, causing significant operational issues at shop level.

A Guest Blog from CRA Corporate Member, Adrian Barker – Managing Director ARB Recycling Ltd