Waste not, want not: how recycling wood works on several levels

It’s a wonderful example of the virtuous circle of nature harnessed for everyone’s benefit: wood hewn for the construction industry being recycled for a new, more aesthetic purpose.

And it’s not just the product – this social enterprise is also committed to regenerating people, especially those who need some help.

Glasgow Wood Recycling turns waste from the building industry into brand new objects for homes and gardens.

The social enterprise began exactly 10 years ago. Peter Lavelle, then a social worker, had the idea of bringing to Glasgow a project that was flourishing in other cities in the UK.

We meet in the Glasgow Wood Recycling workshop on the city’s South Street. The immediate impression, after walking by all the industrial buildings nearby, is to find yourself in a small wooden heaven in the middle of a jungle of concrete.

What Peter Lavelle and the charity do is an important social activity. It is a virtuous, sustainable cycle: waste wood which would be destined for landfill is instead turned into a new valuable product, creating, at the same time, job opportunities and training for the unemployed and socially excluded.

According to statistics provided by Remade Scotland from Glasgow Caledonian University, when Glasgow Wood Recycling started, the consumption of timber in UK had been rising every year. In Scotland, of around two million tons produced, only 150,000 tons were recycled.

Back then, it was hard to convince construction companies to provide the wood waste to recycle. But the environment in the UK is changing. Peter says: “From 18 organisations in 2006, there are now around 30 similar companies all over the country that form the wood recycling network.”

Walking through the various areas of the workshop, passing from the timber deposit to the working area – where staff and volunteers are busy turning timber into products for community projects or private clients – Peter keeps telling me more about the recycling system.

The approach toward recycled timber objects is evolving, he says and people are watching them with increasing interest. “That which was previously a waste, is now becoming a commodity, so we have added value to it. And other people are adding value to it. Bars and restaurants are using it because it is fashionable.”

Thanks to this new appeal, the amount of timber waste going to landfill in Scotland and in the UK is decreasing every year, according to government statistics. In 2014, the UK government estimated a 65% of wood waste was recycled for different uses.

Glasgow Wood Recycling is not only contributing to the amount of material saved from landfills. Thanks to volunteering and training projects, a number of Glaswegians have found a new meaning in life and learned new skills that helped them find a job.

Peter says: “People come to us for a variety of reasons and they come from a wide range of backgrounds. Volunteering is still the key, the foundation for Glasgow Wood Recycling. Currently we have people who have experience of mental health, who have experienced addiction, homelessness and real dire poverty, some people that are retired.

“We have people that are either at university or have left university and are trying to get their practical manual skills to try to get employment or to be more creative.

“This place has pretty much an open door policy:  No matter who you are and where you come from, you can come here and join us!”

The social enterprise has hired some of the volunteers and trainees as full-time employees throughout the years. One of the success stories is Alex’s. He started in 2011 as a volunteer when he was struggling to find a job and, after three years, became a permanent member of staff.

Peter says: “The driving feature for me is the fact that this kind of way of working can create opportunities, in its broadest sense. There are so many things that make a community and to me, a social enterprise is an important strand of every community.

“It is another way of doing business, not capitalistically driven. This broadens the choice of things people may engage in. The driver is to reach out to people in the community. This is the biggest purpose of the place. The wood recycling and the manufacturing is a vehicle for this.”

Glasgow Wood Recycling has contributed to several community projects in the past, from Partick and Greyfriars Community Gardens to Bankhead Primary School and there are many other projects going on.

The charity’s success is driven by customers and community appreciation. “It is mostly word of mouth,” Peter explains. “We have the expertise. We are kind of unique. Very few other companies make what we do with reclaimed timber.”

He concludes: “We are really busy, with a really good start to 2017. So our 10th birthday year will hopefully will be a big success.”

If you want to know more about Glasgow Wood Recycling projects and products, go here

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