The Green Centre attracts nearly 400 visitors to Brighton Open Market on most Thursdays. Volunteers start setting up at 8.15am and pack up at around 4.30pm. “People are obsessed with recycling,” says Melanie Rees, the scheme’s Co-Founder and Creative Director. “This is a real community thing that has been building steadily.” The non-profit community interest project started in 2006 and faced a challenging six-month search for premises before ending up at the Open Market in 2017.
All items they recycle are listed on the online Recycling Guide and range from asthma inhalers to ink cartridges. Melanie adds: “The problem is I can’t accept an item on the table unless I know that we’ve got a company to give it to and they can use that product.” The Green Centre works with TerraCycle, a company dealing with hard-to-recycle materials. “They do the recycling and deal with big companies. We follow the path as far as we can. With some companies, you have access to all kinds of information. With others, there’s less information available. I think there’s a limit in that unless you’re an investigative reporter, some of it has to be done on trust.”
Despite having won Top Environmental Influencer 2016 for providing better recycling services to the city, awards are not The Green Centre’s aspiration. Former special needs headteacher Melanie said: “A lot of people like that sort of thing. All I care about is that we’re getting people on board and sharing digestible and relatable information. We’re not setting the world alight but we’re consistent. We’re there and always making sure we’re sharing a good message.”
Volunteers making up ‘Team GC’ help to check and bag items, whilst also providing information to the public. Melanie said: “Often there can be lots of paperwork and barriers to volunteering. We just do three trial sessions and if you like it we can sit down and talk about it. Roughly 75% of the team has some kind of special need or disability and by the time you put us all together we make a really good, diverse and inclusive team.” Along with volunteer information on their website, there are also updates about recycling dates and new programmes on their Facebook.
The Green Centre works in partnership with Brighton & Hove City Council. Melanie explained it’s difficult for City Clean, as they collect the recycling but can’t give the public the information they want. The Green Centre bought a double-decker bus which is being converted by hand into a learning space. Downstairs will house a One Planet Living exhibition and upstairs will provide a space to deliver workshops. This is being done with reclaimed materials, but despite requests, the bus will not be visiting schools once complete. Instead, there’s a focus on a curriculum for the community. Melanie said: “Environmental educational programmes are already in schools. So how are people not in school going to receive environmental education?”
Through initiatives such as The Art of Sustainable Living, caring for the environment is encouraged. It involves 10 principles, including zero waste, and looks at how habits and behaviours impact on the environment. When asked how much the Green Centre has recycled and diverted away from landfill or incineration so far, Melanie said: “Figures are almost misleading, because we recycle a lot of light things. How long is it going to take us to get 20 tonnes of crisp packets?” Other small items collected at the stall include foreign notes or coins leftover from people’s holidays. The currency is added to an on-going collection and sent to Survival, an organisation supporting tribal people throughout the world to defend their land. The Green Centre also supports other charities.
“In the waste hierarchy I call recycling GCSE waste management; it’s a good entry-level for everyone, but we can’t stay there too long. We need to start thinking about reducing and reusing.”