How Helen and Andy are reducing waste to landfill

Helen and Andy first got involved with Extinction Rebellion in Gateshead in February 2020 when people came from all over the country to protest against the opening of a new opencast mine in Pont Valley. “We couldn’t believe the commitment of these individuals who stood at the entrance to the mine for hours at a time in snow and wind and rain” explains Helen, “I’ve never been so cold, but the atmosphere was amazing with the colourful flags, the Samba band and the resilient cheery spirit of the people there”.

Since that initial experience with XR, the pair have never looked back, getting to know local rebels online during the pandemic and attending Rebellions in Manchester and London when the opportunity came. “Getting to know people in XR has been like finding our tribe,” Andy says, “It’s great to be amongst like-minded people who care about the same issues that we do and want to do something about it.”

So what do Helen and Andy do when they’re not on the streets with Extinction Rebellion? Well, at the start of 2021, the couple started up their own social enterprise committed to reducing waste to landfill. Green Heart Collective takes donations of unwanted items from individuals and businesses and sells them online and in store.

What made you leave your jobs to take on this challenge?

Helen: I was struggling so much with working within mainstream retail when I knew that encouraging people to buy new stuff was a major contributor to the problems on the planet. I was becoming increasingly committed to not buying new, especially clothes and was really keen to create a retail space that made it easier for my friends and people I met to buy preloved instead of new.

Andy: I have spent many years running e-commerce businesses where the number one aim is sell more stuff without giving another thought to the consequences of that consumption. For most businesses, waste is something to be ignored where possible and minimum standards when you can ignore no longer. It doesn’t have to be this way.

How does reducing waste to landfill fit in with your commitment to the planet?

Helen: I love clothes and know that the fast fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world. We need to stop producing so many clothes and sending so many clothes to landfill. The more I looked into it, the more it broke my heart. You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. 

Andy: Waste is that instinctively feels wrong but it is so hard to deal with it. I wanted to become an expert on the people who doing this the best and make sure we could send people their way. Then find the gaps where no one is working and see if we could fill those gaps.

What do you love about what you do?

Helen: We’re trying to create a more sustainable business model where all of us earn the same and everyone on the team is equally valued. It’s made it a great place to work and knowing that we are doing some good for the planet is the icing on the cake.

Andy: Every day is different. We are inventing something new and that is exciting and scary all at the same time. As well as handling the products and waste, I wanted to explore ways of using innovative technology to make it easier for people.

How do you live out your values in your work and life?

Helen: As I said, I don’t buy new clothes, but I do still get a lot of joy from buying clothes. I’ve now moved away from buying wrapping paper, even at Christmas, and use packing paper or cloth wraps instead. We’ve been vegan a while now and have pledged not to fly any more. All of these things add up to a lifestyle more aligned with our values.

Andy: I like to always ask questions about how we can do more and what kind of impact it can have. Focusing on the most impact possible in the time we have. As George Monbiot as suggested being vegan and not flying are the two biggest things you can. I wasn’t keen to become vegan – I felt as veggie for 30 years I had done my bit – but reading the science on farm animals was enough to convince me.

What is your long term vision for your business?

Helen: I’m hoping that as more and more people realise their responsibility to buy less new stuff, that businesses like ours will flourish as a great place to buy preloved. Of course, secondhand clothes are more affordable too, which helps in this cost of living crisis. I’m not sure what the future will hold, but am fascinated in what a regenerative culture will look like going forward, both at work and in our communities.

Andy: Grow it carefully to make it self sustaining. If we get that right, everything else will take care of itself.

You can read more about the Green Heart Collective created by Andy and Helen.