The climate emergency is the biggest challenge we collectively face and requires a dramatic transformation in how we do business.

Community Wood Recycling is a network of social enterprises collecting and reusing waste wood whilst also creating jobs and training opportunities for people marginalised in the labour market.

The business was founded by Richard Mehmed in 1998. He was building a playhouse for his daughter and spotted some wooden sheets piled up outside a local factory in Brighton. After asking if he could take a couple, he was shocked to find that the pile was just a fraction of the excess wooden packaging the factory had which was waiting to be incinerated or headed to landfill where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the earth.[1]

Richard came up with a plan to recycle wood out of waste. The Brighton and Hove Wood Recycling Project was born.

Working with local volunteers who wanted to change their lives such as people who were homeless, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed, the Brighton business soon began to gain attention as its profile grew amongst local consumers and businesses.

A successful franchise

Its success allowed it to secure funding to franchise the model and the National Community Wood Recycling Project (NCWRP) was formed in 2003. The National Builders Collection Scheme was established seven years later to market the recycling service to building companies which allowed the NCWRP to operate as a fully self-funded social enterprise. There are now 30 social enterprises operating across the country, collectively forming Community Wood Recycling. The social enterprise works both with large corporates, particular from the construction industry, and also collects wood from small businesses.

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Changing lives, protecting the planet

Community Wood Recycling’s model is simple – collecting waste wood from businesses and then selling them on. Large pieces of wood are sold on as they are whereas shorter pieces are transformed into items such as tables and birdboxes.

In the financial year 2019-2020 the business rescued 22,767 tonnes of wood from the wastestream, 22% of which was reused, 30% was processed into firewood and kindling and the remaining 48% was recycled into woodchip. Over the same time period the company created 229 paid jobs and 843 training opportunities for people disadvantaged in the labour market including ex-offenders, people recovering from substance abuse and people with learning difficulties or mental health issues, helping build confidence and skills.

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Innovating to reduce paper waste

Currently every piece of waste in the country has a paper trial with licensed waste carriers having to fill out a waste transfer note (WTN). This equates to tons of wastepaper every year – uncomfortable for a social enterprise set up to reduce waste. Community Wood Recycling came up with a innovative electronic WTN via an android app. The app was fully rolled out across the whole Community Wood Recycling network on 1 April 2021 and it is estimated that the electronic WTN will save 13,000 pieces of paper a year.

This article was first published in No Going Back: The State of Social Enterprise Survey 2021. The report, SEUK’s flagship publication looks in depth at the state of the UK’s social enterprise sector.  It shows that in spite of the challenges of the pandemic, social enterprises are delivering economically, environmentally and socially. A key focus of this year’s report was looking at social enterprises and the environement. Find out more and download the report here.

The role of social enterprises in tackling the climate emergency will be a key focus of Social Enterprise Futures – a month long festival from 8 November to 8 December for those who believe that changing how we do business is vital to building a fairer, more sustainable world. We’ll be exploring the links between social and environmental justice and also responding to the fallout from COP26 itself. Find out more and get your tickets here >>