Yorkshire-based Ucan Recycling hasn’t just turned its passion for 100% IT reuse into a successful and growing business. With a deep-rooted social strategy at the heart of this Community Interest Company (CiC), Ucan is changing lives too. In this exclusive insight, Materials Handling World finds out how…
It started out in 2010 as a one man band, operating from a hot desk in a business incubation centre. The brainchild of experienced metal trader Rob Seal, Ucan initially focused on the brokering of aluminium can recycling deals. However, due to strong market conditions, Rob quickly took on his own premises and diversified into IT reuse.
To ensure a continuous in-feed of ‘stock’, a free IT collection and recycling service was offered to companies, schools, universities and local authorities in the area. The convenience of this service – coupled with businesses’ obligations to responsibly dispose of their redundant equipment – attracted interest from throughout Yorkshire and beyond. And, as demand grew, so too did the need for employees – here is where the story started to get really interesting.
Ucan was set up as a Community Interest Company (CiC), therefore it had a deep-rooted social stance from the outset – it existed for reasons beyond purely commercial gain. So, when the search for staff began, Ucan didn’t recruit in the ‘conventional’ way. The business was located in quite a deprived area of Leeds, with a high proportion of long-term unemployed residents and NEETs (young people ‘Not in Education, Employment, or Training’). So, employment opportunities were offered specifically to these groups of individuals.
Rob elaborated: “We began to see first-hand that it is often through no fault of their own that some people have struggled to find work, or haven’t been in employment for a long time. Poor health, difficult family circumstances or bad luck can all lead to a lack of self-worth and resentment – sometimes even crime. It can quickly spiral into a terribly negative situation. But these people just need a chance. So, rather than dismissing them as someone else’s problem, we wanted to break the cycle, get them into the routine of working and enable them to build a better life.”
This model soon flourished. Ucan began to offer back-to-work placements via organisations including Interserve and the job centre, and training programmes were established so that recruits could be gradually upskilled to carry out their role proficiently. Also, as Ucan grew it became possible to offer progression opportunities throughout the business, so that employees could thrive in a position best-suited to their expertise.
For example, the first element of Ucan’s service is the collection of hard drives, servers, laptops and other devices that fall under the category 3 WEEE (Waste Electronic & Electrical Equipment) category, plus items such as CRT screens and TFT monitors associated with category 11. Collection enquiries have to be logged and scheduled according to the availability of the most suitable vehicle and/or other jobs in the area. Appointments are confirmed again on the morning of the collection, before the pick-up itself takes place.
‘Donors’ of the equipment receive a waste transfer notice before Ucan hits the road, detailing the number of items collected. Clients also have the option to utilise some of the company’s additional services, such as data destruction and asset management.
When the equipment reaches Ucan’s AATF site (approved authorised treatment facility), it is booked in and assessed for its reuse potential.
Some of the best equipment requires very little work – devices may no longer be fit-for-purpose for the ‘donor’ but they still run as normal. Some simple checks will therefore ensure they operate as a complete unit then – once the serial numbers and hard drives are wiped and/or degaussed – they can be sold on via Ucan’s ebay shops or to IT traders.
Sometimes repairs are required. In these instances, a technician will check the component parts to detect the fault such as a hard drive defect or processor failure. Once refurbished, the equipment can be sold on as before.
There are occasions, of course, where it isn’t worth fixing a depreciated or extensively damaged device. When this is the case, the technician carefully breaks the equipment down into its component parts, so that these valuable elements can be retained as spares or sold.
If the component parts themselves are no longer functional the device is treated as scrap and all materials are removed and segregated for recycling. A shredding process may be required, particularly if the client has opted for a secure data disposal service. At this stage, Rob will draw upon his metal trading expertise, seeking the best deal for all the component parts.
Rob explained: “Only last week we sent an artic wagon to Germany for processing, with 15 tonnes of various component parts including PCB boards, cable and ram. It requires a constant eye on the markets, so that we can generate the most income from the materials we salvage. But it’s worthwhile. The more money we can bring into the business, the more local people we can help.”
Fast forward to 2016 and Ucan has supported 80 volunteers since the company’s inception. Nine have been appointed on temporary or permanent contracts and many others have gone on to find employment elsewhere. Rob continued: “Whilst we can’t employ every volunteer we support, we can provide them with work experience, teach them new skills, develop their personal and professional confidence, and make them more ‘job ready’. This increases the chances of them going on to find paid employment.
“We even receive incoming enquiries from neighbouring businesses looking for help to fill their vacancies – we’ve almost become a free recruitment service! We helped a local ex-offender, for example, who had been unemployed for 19 years. Having openly shared his bitterness towards his work placement, he admitted he felt at the ‘bottom of the scrap heap’ when joining us. But the opportunity soon changed him and, four months into his placement, we secured a permanent job for him at a local warehouse. When he received his first pay packet, he said he felt like a lottery winner.”
So, at the same time as processing 900 tonnes of ‘redundant’ IT equipment per year, it wouldn’t be too extreme to say that this £1.2m turnover company is changing lives.
Rob concluded: “By concentrating our efforts in ensuring the 100% reuse of valuable IT equipment, avoiding landfill and creating jobs, our organisation is benefitting clients, the environment and the local community – plus we’re growing too! The more IT equipment we can salvage and process, the greater the positive impact for all concerned.”