Sally Quinn calls them the “plastic bags of the office”.
And last year, the social enterprise she co-founded collected 50,000 of them alone.
“We're the only group in Australia who are actually diverting folders from landfill,” says Quinn, one half of Melbourne-based Green Collect, which leverages sustainable solutions to get value out of office waste and divert it from landfill.
“And it’s really important we find a use for folders because they are such a prolific form of waste. They’re made of PVC, cardboard and metals, so they’re not high value commodities, but when they’re separated, something good can happen to them.”
Speaking prior to receiving a funding injection as part of Westpac Foundation’s community grants to not-for-profit organisations unveiled today, Quinn’s husband and business partner Darren Andrews says individuals, and society as a whole, need to take greater responsibility for the 64 million tonnes of waste Australia generates every year. He says while the 85 tonnes of “hard to recycle” items Green Collect keeps out of landfill every year won’t save the world, their attention to detail makes the method uniquely effective.
“In terms of maximising the resources, it really is about hand separation and that’s something we do because we care,” he says.
Green Collect is one of 100 Australian organisations receiving a 2019 Community Grant, worth a combined $1 million, which aim to provide much needed support to not-for-profits making a difference in local communities around the country. It forms part of the Foundation’s goal to help change 100,000 lives for the better by 2030 through jobs and opportunities for those that need it most.
Aside from its environmental purpose, Green Collect exists to create jobs and employment options for people facing barriers to mainstream employment. Like three quarters of the 2019 recipients, Green Collect has previously been funded by the Westpac Foundation, and has also become a supplier to the bank and partnered to find a new life for office equipment when branches are refurbished.
“When we started Green Collect, we set out to do something that was good for people and good for the planet – we don’t see those two things as being separate,” Quinn says.
“We prioritise people who have faced significant barriers to employment, so our workplace is made up of people who may have faced homelessness, or people who have come to Australia as refugees, or people who live with a mental illness.”
Westpac Foundation Community Grants have provided $8.6 million to 879 organisations nationally since 2012. Susan Bannigan, the CEO of the Westpac Foundation, says while the grants are important, organisations also have access to Westpac employees for support and skills, noting it takes more than funding to create “sustainable change”.
“Westpac Foundation has been a significant partner in our journey. So we've actually doubled what we do each year for the last couple of years,” says Andrews. “With that support, we're wanting to really continue doubling our operations. We want to increase the amount of materials we're diverting from landfill, but also the amount of employment that we can create for people experiencing disadvantage.”