According to the World’s Biggest Garage Sale (WBGS), Australian homes are currently sitting on $43 billion of underutilised goods which are at risk of ending up in landfill. What started as a neighbourhood garage sale in 2013 has now evolved into a social enterprise that is mobilising these goods, revolutionising the 'recommerce' or reverse commerce sector, keeping valuable items out of landfill and providing jobs and opportunities to those in need.
Their events, marketplace and online store give people a new way to access high-quality ‘second life’ products. They have just recently launched a Circular Economy Precinct in the suburb of Morningside in Brisbane where goods are repaired and repurposed.
We caught up with Yas Grigaliunas, CEO and co-founder of WBGS, to find out about their journey from their first garage sale to launching Australia’s first Circular Economy Precinct.
“We're a circular economy enterprise and have been working in this industry for seven years now, since our first event,” Grigaliunas says. “And what we learnt really early is the significant opportunity to really mobilise and innovate around the [recommerce] sector. It's an area that we're incredibly passionate about. There's a significant amount of untapped resources and an amazing ecosystem of people who are passionate about the work in this industry, and that's probably what keeps us going and growing, the passion we have for people, planet, purpose.”
WBGS started when Yas tried to solve the problem of ‘donor fatigue’. She was looking for a way to encourage Australians to donate without asking for money. Yas explains how she saw an opportunity to create value from the dormant goods sitting in cupboards and sheds around Australia: “I could see this massive opportunity, that there was a huge vacant space around the dormant goods that were ‘too good for charity’ were the words that customers would use. And ‘I'm too busy to sell’ was the other.”
Yas realised not only was there an opportunity to create value from these goods but if she didn’t find a solution for them, there was a risk they would go to waste. “What we were realising is that this is the future waste product. This is the future dump. We have to intercept it now in a proactive way to pluck it out and do something with it while it's still got a value and then ensure that it's got life beyond its second, third, fourth, fifth life and beyond.”
We’re commercially viable as an enterprise, but we're different.
WBGS aims bring value to dormant goods by making repurposing as easy as possible. Both individuals and businesses can be part of this impact. Individuals can donate goods to be resold and they also partner with big corporations to make use of what would otherwise have been waste. Yas shares one recent example of their partnership with Officeworks, where WBGS will take damaged goods and ensure they stay out of landfill through repairing, reimagining and repurposing them.
“What Officeworks were looking at was a solution around the imperfect products, the scratches and dents… something not quite right, or a slight hole in something. These were the imperfect products,” Yas explains. “From a sustainable organisation like Officeworks that are looking to source sustainably, continue to improve that sustainable sourcing, but then also to challenge their own business around how to make better products and ensure they stay in the economy longer, [the] gap was the imperfect product.”
Leveraging the unique skills of each organisation, WBGS and Officeworks agreed to work together to find a solution for these products and have seen great success so far. “We've been able to see this incredible outcome of diversion of landfill to the extreme levels, like 98%, I think, we've achieved within our first six months of working together after the pilot.” These imperfect products are taken to WBGS and either sold or donated to a local community group or charity. “[These] products that are slightly imperfect make a difference to a school or community, or local charity, or small business,” says Yas.
When asked about the barriers she’s faced over the years, Yas responds that as a founder there are challenges with keeping up the costs of growing the business quickly, especially with a non-traditional business model. “Money is a barrier, but only because I want to go way faster than my bank balance allows me to,” she says. “And if I had one wish, it would be that I'd be so personally loaded that I could bankroll the chasm that you need to cross as a founder and not have to go out and pitch your pants off to convince people of a business model that doesn't always look like a traditional business model. We’re commercially viable as an enterprise, but we're different.”
“Scaling is [also] challenging,” she adds. “Right now, there's an enormous need for these centres [the WBGS Circular Economy Precincts] across the whole country. And I have immense guilt that we don't have the financial capacity to just copy and paste the systems and processes and capabilities of what we've been doing, and to create 50, 60, 70 jobs in each of these centres across all the cities and regions across the country.”
Since launching seven years ago, WBGS has kept 4.3 million kilograms of goods out of landfill and created value for these unwanted goods through selling or donating goods to local charities. When asked how they make the decision to sell or donate items, Yas explains, “if something's going to sit idle in here, it goes out… Otherwise, we're completely contradicting our entire business model. And so if we can't sell it, but someone else can [we donate it].” They estimate $2.2 million in estimated social impact value.
Core to the model and value of WBGS is jobs creation. One of their aims is to have 50% of their precinct workforce be vulnerable Australians by 2021. “We want to have thousands of jobs … Across the country, in our precincts,” Yas says. “Meaningful employment, that provides flexibility for those who are not maybe always the candidates at the top of the pile when businesses are making their decision. We'd like to embrace that different ability.”
Yas shares a story of a personal impact that WBGS is making to one of her staff members, Grace. “We spent 90 minutes listening to one of our young people on Saturday and she's on the spectrum. She said, ‘When I grow up, I want to talk and do workshops about how people need to be more like you, Yas, and your business and hire people like me on the spectrum’. And I said, ‘Why do you need to wait until you grow up?’ Like, let's do this now… This is a girl that hasn't done her homework all year, struggling at school. And at 10:30 on a Sunday night, she emailed me through her proposal for the workshops. So for me, there's that: jobs, jobs, jobs for thousands of people just like Grace.”
"Take action after reading [this]. If you're reading this and think 'Oh, my gosh, the WBGS story really resonates with me!', [then] look them up, follow the WBGS socials and look into how you can become involved," urges Yas.
One such initiative that is easily accessible for all is the #onesecond campaign. This year, the WBGS is asking Australians to take #onesecond to think about their purchasing habits for the holidays; and to commit to purchasing at least one of their gifts secondhand. It’s easy, it’s actionable and it’s all explained here.