ECT: Social enterprises deliver "better" recycling services

1 July 2004

More councils should recognise that community-based "social enterprise" groups can deliver "better services" than in-house departments or commercial organisations, according to ECT chief executive Stephen Sears.

Mr Sears was speaking at the 25th anniversary of the UK's largest social enterprise recycling organisation, ECT, at Kew Gardens today.

Mr Sears, who was named "Social Entrepreneur of the Year" by the DTI in February, said that "still too often the public sector feels services can only be delivered by in-house departments or commercial organisations. More local authorities should recognise that social enterprises can deliver better services and engage with community."

But the ECT chief executive urged other social enterprises to be "disciplined and professional" if they want to expand their delivery of public services.

ECT, which started out as a community transport provider before recycling became its biggest commercial activity, has seen huge growth in the last year with its turnover increasing from £13 million in 2002/03 to £23 million in 2003/04.

With long-term contracts to supply material to Aylesford Newsprint, British Glass Recycling and AMG, ECT serves 2.75 million people working with 16 local authorities, and is the largest provider of source-separated kerbside recycling collections in London.

The organisation has taken over recycling responsibilities in the West Country after Avon Friends of the Earth went into receivership in August last year (see story), and has expanded further outside it original London home with new services in Nuneaton and Bedworth.

Northern Ireland
In October, ECT and the Bryson House group formed a 50/50 joint venture in Northern Ireland to procure local authority contracts there (see story). Speaking to, Mr Sears said that since then, Bryson House Recycling has picked up contracts so that within nine months, it will service about 170,000 households – over 15% of Northern Ireland.

Mr Sears said: "It is making fantastic progress, Bryson House is already the second biggest social enterprise recycling organisation – after ECT, of course."

About 50,000 households in Belfast, Banbridge and Armagh now have collections, and the aim is to help increase Northern Ireland's recycling rate from 6% to 25%. The chair of Bryson House Recycling, Nick McCafferty, said of the venture with ECT: "By combining forces we can make it easy for residents to recycle up to 35% of their rubbish."

Social investors
Also speaking at ECT's 25th anniversary celebration, Jonathan Bland of the Social Enterprise Coalition said that social enterprises are gaining recognition as a viable business model. He said the UK community sector is at a watershed point, with increasing interest from the government.

He said the next stage would be for "social investors" to put money into the sector so that the community values could spread to more and more areas of the economy.

Mr Bland said: "Perhaps in 25 years, ECT will be one of the largest social enterprises out of tens of thousands of social enterprises, rather than just one of a handful."