GreenChair saving office furniture from landfill, while helping WA charities furnish for free

After 20 years in the construction industry fitting out corporate offices, Gordon Bateup was sick of seeing perfectly usable office furniture being sent to landfill, simply because it was out of style, or an office block was being demolished.

So he decided to come up with a solution.

“Essentially it is diverting unwanted furniture from demolition projects and de-fits and connecting it to not-for-profits, charities and community groups who need to fit out an office and don’t have the budget,” he told Tom Baddeley on ABC Radio Perth.

“And it’s as simple as that.

There is no requirement to record quantities of individual products, like office furniture, sent to landfill in WA. (Supplied: Worlds Biggest Garage Sale)

In less than two years, more than 123,500 kilograms of commercial furniture has been saved from landfill in Western Australia through Mr Bateup’s project GreenChair.

About 14,900 items of furniture have gone to 200 WA-based not-for-profit organizations, charities, and community groups in desperate need of office furniture.

“A building owner rang me and said ‘Look, I’ve got 8,000 square meters of carpet in our basement – ​​the carpet is being changed in our building and some of it is new, in boxes still’ and we got rid of the lot .

“We couldn’t believe it, we still had phone calls coming in afterwards wanting the carpet because it works on a first come first serve basis.”

A row of black office chairs at timber desks in an office.
Mr Bateup was shocked to see quality furniture sent straight to landfill after corporations rebranded.(Supplied: Unsplash)

Time management key to success

The WA Government does not currently have a specific program in place to recycle used office furniture, and there is no requirement to record quantities of individual waste products like office furniture disposed of to landfill.

According to the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation about 1.7 million tonnes of commercial and industrial waste was generated in Western Australia from 2019-2020.

Of this, 732,000 tons was recycled, and 886,000 tons was sent to landfill.

A close-up of a yellow bulldozer pushing rubbish into a pile at a landfill site.
Less than half of the commercial and industrial waste recorded in Western Australia from 2019-2020 was recycled.(ABC News: Jessica Warriner)

Mr Bateup, who was named the 2022 Waste Champion at the industry’s WasteSorted Awards, said the success of the GreenChair program was in the timing.

“We don’t store this furniture in a warehouse,” he said.

“The trick of the model is working with the industry — we’ve negotiated with owners and building managers and builders — and we work it in just in time, because it’s coming out of the building anyway.

“It’s a really efficient process in that sense.”

From ‘dark and grimy’ to bright and welcoming

Homeless Healthcare’s after-hours support center in Perth was furnished by the GreenChair program which transformed their old premises into a homely, warm space for people in need.

A cozy room with a curved stained glass window, white tables and red armchairs.
Homeless Healthcare’s after hours support center is now cozy and comfortable.(ABC News: Kate Leaver)

Homeless Healthcare director of residential services Zoe Thebaud said the building had previously been a backpackers hostel and was full of broken and mismatched furniture.

“It had a very dark, grimy and grim feel about it and was full of horrible furniture that probably had been that way in the backpackers for about 20 years,” she said.

“After we cleaned it out we had a big empty space that we wanted to welcome people into but didn’t have a furniture budget, and had bits and pieces that were donated to us.”

Homeless Healthcare Director of Residential Services Zoe Thebaud
Zoe Thebaud says the Homeless Healthcare Support Center in Perth was dark and dingy before being furnished. (ABC News: Kate Leaver)

“Through GreenChair, we actually received quite a lot of donations of practical, and also beautiful, pieces of furniture that really made this place the therapeutic setting that it is.

“So instead of it being kind of a cold, sterile environment with lots of mismatched bits of furniture, we actually had beautiful pieces, some lovely artwork and consistent furniture.

Not-for-profit group Plastic Free Foundation’s Fremantle office was also furnished through GreenChair.

Founder Rebecca Prince-Ruiz said when they started the organization they were “camping” in their office.

Four women sitting in an office wave at the camera.
Office workers at the not-for-profit Plastic Free Foundation are no longer using camping tables and chairs.(Supplied: Rebecca Prince Ruiz)

“Like all charities, funding is tight and we always try to make the most of any funding to work towards our vision of helping end plastic waste.

“Having our furniture donated by GreenChair allowed us to do this while fitting in with our values ​​for a circular economy.”

Company working towards national office waste solution

According to research by private sustainability advisory firm Edge Environment, Perth offices generated about 3003 tonnes of office furniture waste in 2021 with an estimated 90 per cent by weight being sent straight to landfill.

The company is spearheading a project called ‘Fit for Office’, an industry-led response designed to tackle the office waste that from an end of lease strip out process.

“We will seek to engage stakeholders across the entire commercial furniture ecosystem, including organizations like GreenChair, to co-develop an industry-backed product stewardship scheme to address this complex challenge.”

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