Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Opportunities from building material reuse centres (BMRCs)

BMRC social enterprise re-use centres, across Britain

In the USA and Canada there are hundreds of building material Reuse Centres, or BMRCs as they get called; one in almost every large community.

USA BMRCs are financially sustainable retail outlets that sell reusable building materials to both trade and general public customers. Sales income is further increased by providing charged services such as;

* Clearing site materials
* Undertaking commercial salvage jobs and/or deconstruction,
* Partnering with regional or national builders
* Providing vocational training, including mainstream construction
* Delivering external awareness and training

Meanwhile the UK is yet to establish a BMRC network. What we do have is a wealth of effective wood reuse projects, successful architectural salvage business, a growing social enterprise sector and many organisations interested in BMRCs. There is a lot of potential for growth.

Bio-regional are working with wasteWISE and MASCo to publish a BMRC business plan toolkit by April 2008 and develop an e-network of enthusiastic BMRC partner enterprises. This will be linked in to wider networks. Our aim is to support the establishment of 3 to 5 major new BMRCs across different UK regions. This initial work is funded by the Centre for Remanufactoring and Reuse.

The core business model will be based on vibrant retail outlets, run as social enterprises. Outlets will source "as new" products from the excess materials of new build and regeneration construction projects and reclaimable materials from the wider building sector. These new businesses will complement existing salvage and recycling companies.

UK BMRCs could be created the following ways:

* An expansion opportunity for an existing social enterprise (such as the wood recycling projects or NVQ training schemes),
* A not-for-profit venture for business or reclaimed industry,
* Co-located with a major development project site
* As a partnership with a council-led initiative such as an expansion of a civic amenity site, new waste/recycling facility or resource recovery park.

There is already a wealth of social enterprises across the UK successfully retailing reused materials such as wood, furniture and commercial off cuts. Up until now, none have focused on the huge opportunity presented by the reuse of building materials.

There is, therefore, a clear gap in the UK market to recover far more substantial volumes of useful building materials and sell them at affordable prices to the general public and small-scale builders.

We need to reverse the fact that the volume of materials sold by the salvage industry has been declining over the last 10 years. Negligible quantities of demolition materials are currently being reused in their existing form. Worse still, an estimated 13% of materials go to waste without ever being used; bought in excess to ensure that construction and re-build projects are delivered on time (EA, 2007)

Jonathan Essex of BioRegional said,"BMRCs could bridge the gap between commercial salvage and the social enterprise reuse sector which includes projects such as community re-paint, community wood recycling projects, scrapstores and furniture reuse. The push for recycling seems to have shifted the demolition waste stream away from the salvage industry. For example, ten years ago it used to process 700,000 tonnes of reclaimed timber a year but now it seems to be a lot less. We do not pretend that this can be plugged by social enterprise, but government support for reuse must exceed that for recycling, not the other way around.

"Our initial aim is to target surplus new construction products and low value reclaimed products that are not currently sold by the salvage trade. The key is to try to knit things together rather than drive things apart, including creating partnerships between local authority, community groups and business expertise. There is no reason why a salvage yard cannot be a part of this, and develop a BMRC as part of its retail strategy. BioRegional's role is to encourage new initiatives to start and to encourage existing organisations, which could include salvage dealers, to take on this opportunity."

For further information contact; Ronan Leyden, Reclamation Officer, BioRegional Development Group,, 020 8404 4897

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