It’s not my day job: Matthew Jack, EMERGE Recycling board member

In our new series, it's not my day job, we look at what CIWEM members are doing outside of their 9 to 5 to help the planet. We continue the series with CIWEM's first junior president Matthew Jack, board member at EMERGE Recycling.

Tell us about Emerge Recycling

EMERGE Recycling are a community-benefit society based in Manchester dedicated to socially conscious, sustainable ‘real’ 3Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle. Our aim is to make the 3Rs second nature. As a Ben Com EMERGE Recycling is not driven by profit but by our ethos – being resource efficient, supporting our local communities and protecting the planet.

Our simple strapline is ‘the more we take, the more we give’. The more material we source for reuse and recycling, the more we can give back to the community in jobs, skills and supporting the important work of our fellow charity, EMERGE 3RS.

EMERGE operate a number of workstreams through two main entities – EMERGE Recycling, for which I am a non-executive director (NED) and EMERGE 3RS which is a charity providing volunteering and employability programmes. 3RS also operate the Greater Manchester branch of Fareshare and since the beginning of the pandemic have provided over 5 million meals to the people of Greater Manchester through a network of 260+ food banks and other partner organisations.

Tell us about your role with EMERGE Recycling

In 2020 I joined EMERGE Recycling as an NED. My role is about helping to provide leadership, guidance and governance to an organisation which is wholly owned by its members in the same way as my role as a CIWEM Trustee requires these things of me.

It has been really exciting for me to be able to bring skills and experiences learned with CIWEM and Jacobs to a field in which I am deeply passionate about, and as a born and bred Mancunian a community that I am fiercely proud of (even the red 10 per cent...).

How did you take on the role?

I’m a bit of a wannabe carpenter, I’ve always enjoyed making things from wood. EMERGE operate a number of workstreams, one of which is a wood reclamation and upcycling yard called Touch Wood which I’m in love with! In the past couple of years we have collected and processed wood from iconic Manchester landmarks such as the Town Hall and Velodrome, both of which have been refurbished.

The team sell this wood to people like me, so I can say my picnic table has been part of the town hall for 150 years! But they also make bespoke furniture for individuals and office fit outs. The EMERGE team themselves now work on desks on which commonwealth and world championship golds have been won!

Anyway this is how I first got involved, I found myself hanging around the woodshop more and more and hearing about all the wonderful community work EMERGE do and put myself forward as a volunteer NED.

What makes you most proud to be an EMERGE Recycling board member?

Social value. I have spoken much in the past in blogs and interviews about how my proudest career achievement was giving an opportunity to six young people in Mayuge, Uganda to develop skills that would allow them to build a career through a charity construction project I helped deliver. Well that is EMERGE’s bread and butter.

Since 1996 EMERGE have been upskilling volunteers and helping individuals gain qualifications to equip them with the necessary skills and experiences to find not just jobs but careers, and in a number of cases careers with EMERGE ourselves!

What do you think is the biggest misconception about recycling?

Without sounding too negative that recycling actually happens. Many people do not realise what happens to their waste after they put it in the recycling bin. For example a recent Greenpeace investigation found that thousands of tonnes of plastic waste in the UK is simply incinerated while in 2020 some 688,000 tonnes of plastic waste was exported overseas where all too often rather than being recycled it is left in landfill.

I have seen this first hand when I visited Mt. Vesuvius in 2017. For decades illegal waste management contractors have dumped waste on the slopes which is the periodically set on fire to make room for more causing huge devastation. This is why community-benefit societies like EMERGE Recycling are so important – you know what you are getting is real recycling.

Has your role as an Emerge Recycling board member made you feel more, or less, hopeful about the role the 3Rs play in helping to secure a better future for the planet?

Much, much more hopeful, it has been fantastic to see the way in which an organisation can provide so much good to its local community through driving sustainability on all fronts. Its been wonderful to see people throughout the community buy in to the ethos of reduce, reuse, recycle and to see the frankly cool ways in which the talented team are able to repurpose redundant and reclaimed products.

EMERGE also oversee the Greater Manchester depot of Fareshare. How has this made you think rethink the role foodbanks play in the local community and the importance of redistributing food that would otherwise go to a landfill?

Although I am not directly involved with the Fareshare depot, as this is our sibling charity, I am extremely proud to be part of the wider EMERGE family and providing help and support to Fareshare through our activities (we share a fleet of delivery vehicles for example). Through my role I have been able to see first hand the role foodbanks play in the local community and the support they provide to families struggling to survive.

To answer the question my thoughts remain the same – foodbanks should not exist in this country, in a developed country there should not be a need for EMERGE to distribute 5 million meals across Manchester, there should not be families relying on foodbanks to not go to bed hungry. But unfortunately the reality is that they are a necessity for an ever growing number of people and I am so happy and proud that organisations such as EMERGE and Fareshare are able to provide the infrastructure required to offer this service.

One thing that has changed is my appreciation for what goes into supplying a meal through a food bank. You need vehicle fleets for collection and delivery, supply chains, a depot fully kitted out with cold and frozen storage, pest prevention, a huge network of volunteers, tax, insurance, etc and the fantastic people at EMERGE 3Rs do such an amazing job of managing all this, so fantastic in fact that the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge visited during the initial lockdown to thank the staff.

In terms of redistributing food from landfill I personally think its almost criminal to send food to landfill when so many are in need but the only reason companies such as the supermarkets send these to landfill is that there is simply not enough capacity in the existing infrastructure to redistribute this; we have finite storage, fleet and volunteer capacity. Which is why we have recently moved to a larger depot and are looking to replace and expand our fleet through the share offer outlined below.

How can others get involved with EMERGE?

Now is absolutely the best time to become involved with EMERGE, we have just launched a community share offer aimed at raising £300,000 in capital to invest in new plant, infrastructure and low-carbon fleet replacement. The offer includes some excellent benefits, as detailed in the prospectus, and comes with a free warm fuzzy feeling that you are going good in the community. EMERGE also have tons of wonderful volunteering opportunities including corporate volunteering.

More from the series:

It’s not my day job: Ben Gilbert, part-time ecopreneur

It’s not my day job: Adam Sennitt, Surfers Against Sewage rep

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