#8 | May Al-Karooni - Globechain: Champion of Reusing Waste

Please find the transcript with May Al-Karooni, CEO of Globechain (globechain.com), an award-winning global online reuse platform connecting businesses, charities, and people to reuse unwanted items and digitalize waste using an IT-service that promotes sustainable purchasing practices. May previously worked in the investment banking industry for 10 years before heeding the call of setting up the reuse marketplace which helped thousands of business and charities.

 

We begin by tracing the footsteps of how May started Globechain and talk about the demand for a new, online Circular Economy within the waste management industry. We also tackle the topic of the importance of diverting waste from landfills and other areas which can have direct effects on people’s health.  Finally, we discuss how Globechain helps businesses all over the world cut costs by giving away what they would have otherwise simply thrown away.

Resources:

Did you know businesses can save more money by giving away unwanted items like desks, chairs and medical equipment for free instead of throwing them away? 

 

In this episode of the Sustainability Matters Today podcast, I interview May Al-Karooni, CEO of Globechain, an award-winning reuse marketplace that connects businesses that want to throw items away with charities, people, and SMEs that want to use those items.

 

Since starting its operations in 2013, Globechain has over 10,000 customers, they’ve diverted over 5.2 million kgs from landfill, and they have helped over 14,000 communities and 82,400 people globally. Some of their partners include Marks & Spencer, B&Q, Nando’s, Radisson Hotels and the NHS.

 

May and I begin by discussing the ongoing demand for the Circular Model of Economy within the waste management industry. She explains that the Circular Economy focuses on reducing or even eliminating all waste by reusing and recycling all materials. Companies can, therefore, increase their profits significantly by saving money on materials and supplies.

 

We talk about businesses cutting their waste disposal costs by 50% simply by giving away 60% of what they were originally going to throw away. That’s a win-win-win situation: a win for the business, a win for the charities and the causes they support, and a win for the environment!

 

May was chosen by the Morgan Philips Group as one of the 5 Most Influential Female Online Entrepreneurs of 2019 and Globechain was listed in Forbes as one of The Startups You Should Watch In 2019. And since the recording of this episode, Globechain was also chosen as the Barclay’s Regional Winner for the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

 

This is a really exciting episode. If you know someone who is a recycling warrior and reuses items rather than throws away, share this episode with them! You can find us at sustainabilitymatters.today. If you’d like to learn more about May and Globechain, visit their website at Globechain.com 

And while you’re at it, tag us on Instagram to let us know you’re listening to this episode -  @weareglobechain and @sustainabilitymatterstoday. We’d love to hear from you!

 

I also recommend checking out Globechain’s Twitter account - @Globechain - for fascinating facts and practical tips for living a sustainable lifestyle.

 

Alright, let’s jump in!

Daniel Hartz: Thank you for joining me, May. 

 

May Al-Karooni: Thank you very much!

 

Daniel Hartz: Great to have you on the show. And you know, before we jump into the specifics of what you do, I'd love to hear a bit more about your background. Specifically, about how you got started in the sustainability field and why you decided to start Globechain.

 

May Al-Karooni: Sure, so basically I have worked for like over ten years in investment banking and the reason I set up Globechain is one day our bank was moving offices across  the road and they came around and asked us for what we preferred in chairs and tables and new carpet color and they were basically going to dispose all the old furniture rather than give it away.  And I was just like that's crazy because we have three hundred people in the building and upon speaking to kind of the facilities and the move guys they said basically it would cost them around fifty thousand pounds per person to make the move and I just thought well looks like commercial madness, because not only did they include logistics and moving cost, but stuff costs as well and I just thought, “Why has no one put companies connected to charities and small businesses together online like a marketplace, and why has no one digitalized waste?”, so this is basically where Globechain kind of was born from.

Daniel Hartz: Yes, it's crazy that they would just throw everything away. It seems like such a waste. It was all perfectly good furniture and equipment. They're just going to put all into the landfill, was that the idea?

 

May Al-Karooni:  I mean we're talking roughly about, kind of like, ten fifteen years ago. You know, sustainability wasn't even a word that people used day to day, they don’t even know what that meant. So, you know in those days, you know companies were very much about kind of just making a profit,  speed, and convenience, and you know if they could give it away to a few charities here and there, then great. 

 

But if it took them more time and effort than you know, they weren’t going to do that, because there’s no pressure from anyone so basically dispose of things in a more ethical way. 

 

Daniel Hartz: Okay, that makes sense. The landscape has changed a lot since then. 

 

May Al-Karooni: Yes!

 

Daniel Hartz: In one of your blog posts, you outlined that Globechain has a couple of motivations for what you do, and I think you started to touch on that already. But you know specifically, first of all, you're reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and second, you also want to get free items into the hands of people who will gladly reuse them. 

 

May Al-Karooni: Yes!

 

Daniel Hartz:  This is kind of the opposite of how things have been before, which is what's called a Linear Supply Chain or Linear Economy, and this is now a circular one, or Circular Supply Chain. So, what exactly is a Circular Economy or Circular Supply Chain, and why do you think it's important?

 

May Al-Karooni:  Yes, I mean and  it's actually a really complicated area, but ultimately, basically, companies at the moment and you know back since we've known companies exist have worked on linear models, and that's basically them creating something whether that's a product  in a factory or warehouse, producing it, putting it through logistics, sending it to a store. From there a consumer buys it, consumes it, and then disposes it in the bin. That's a linear model, it’s straight. 

 

A circular model takes into effect basically all the processes and the stages to see if you can use all the material, so there's no waste. Basically, really put it back into the process in the systems. Say for example, lighting. Companies now, especially Phillips, are doing, looking at different business models where, basically, rather than selling light bulbs they are actually selling light and they maintain the light bulbs so there is less production, less waste and you know technically they're making more money out of being light suppliers rather than light bulbs suppliers. 

 

So, there are different ways of having that and it could be from designing new products,  looking at how materials for construction are designed so that buildings in the future could be modular and you can take them down and rebuild them somewhere else, as well as materials that could be decomposed better. 

 

So, there are different ways that people can become circular. It’s actually quite a big, complicated topic, but companies are starting slowly to kind of move down the circular model. 

 

Daniel Hartz: Yes, it's really interesting, I mean it sounds like there’s quite a lot of profit associated with saving materials and using them more effectively, but in addition to that, you're also diverting waste from landfills. 

 

Why is it so important to divert things from the landfill? Why don't we just throw everything into landfill and not worry about it?

 

May Al-Karooni: Yes, I mean there’s two ways of waste being disposed these days. Landfill has been the traditional one for years. People just basically have filled up landfill sites outside of cities, you know kind of like where you don't see it.  

 

Unfortunately, these landfills are getting full, there’s methane gas, there's a lot of problems on landfill sites, things get dumped abroad, specifically in Africa. And I don't know if you know, people are aware that you know Chinese just stopped specific export of certain types of waste and electricals, because most of it would have been gone to go there too, to be dumped basically. When these landfills fill up well, they do is dig deeper, when they can’t dig deeper, they have to incinerate them. 

 

So, a lot of the waste these days, if it's not being able to dispose in landfill or recycled, actually gets incinerate soon, and then there is well you have different types of problems to do with carbon emissions.

 

Daniel Hartz: Got it! So, it really is an environmental concern and it's important to make sure that we basically save that stuff from going into a place where they'll just eventually, hopefully, decompose. 

 

But during that time, first of all, takes up space. Second of all, pollutes water, and the air, and things like that.

 

May Al-Karooni: Yes. I mean it's a major problem because a lot of this doesn't decompose and that's why the problems are now occurring. 

 

Chemicals and new diseases are being found by you know mother nature trying to balance it out. So, it has become a really serious problem. It's more of a case of like no one will be affected by it. You know whether you care or not, cancer that somebody has could from some chemicals in the water, it could be from something you ate and could be from that fish or that chicken that’s on contaminated ground. So, you know eventually it's coming back into us--supply chain 

 

Daniel Hartz: Right, so big health concern. I definitely don't want any contaminated chicken that's been living on top of an old landfill. That doesn't sound very good at all. 

 

May Al-Karooni: You just don’t know, I mean it doesn't even have to be on the landfill sites. You know these chemicals are absorbed into the soil. And if there’s land nearby, and there’s agriculture, or the sea or lakes, for drinking water. You know it's everything: it's really like out control now right and you know it's been going far too long with these companies are allowed to dump, who gave permission to keep dumping in the ocean and continue doing that, those kinds of things.

 

Daniel Hartz: If we switch gears for a moment and go more to what Globechain actually does. So basically, companies can post items on the Globechain website and others can take those items for free. 

 

So, you kind of touched already on the sustainability aspect in terms of the environment as people are now more aware of sustainability and its importance. But what do the companies get in return for giving away those unwanted items for free, specifically they're not selling the items there just giving them away. 
 

May Al-Karooni: Yes, and that's why I wanted to do a different type of model, because I believe the future is really kind of going to be businesses that have this element of commercial with a conscience, which is our strapline. 

 

So, ultimately there’s going to be philanthropy and giving, at the same time as making money, and you know the way we work is by charging these companies for listing on our platform, where it’s cheaper than them disposing of it, recycling, or incinerating it. 

 

So, there’s benefits from a commercial level for them to do that. Also, these perfectly good items can be reused. And you know we do things in predominantly a B2B market, so its retail fixtures, obsolete stock, it's office furniture and refurbished computers and then its construction material and medical equipment. 

 

These things are very expensive-- It’s expensive to dispose but they're expensive actually to buy.  There are organizations, charity, small businesses--they really struggling economically to buy these things, whether that's in developed to developing countries. And these big companies (who) like giving these things away, want to give to charity, want to give to these people and help, but they just don't know where they are. 

 

So, what our system does is: it provides a really strong network, in the UK and globally, of all these types of organizations that can take free. And the idea behind free, as we did a lot of studies around the psychology behind people, respecting free things.

 

And what, kind of, is different about us is that we actually get them to go and pick up themselves. So, “taking member” is the one who organizes their own logistics and pays for it. That way, you would reduce the no shows and the people that don’t show out significantly because if people see that they have to basically commit commercially to something, it makes a huge difference in the way collections and in the responsibilities taking on and  taking site. 

 

Daniel Hartz: There's a bit of skin in the game. They get the item for free, but they still need to pay for any collection, time, and all of that and that's their investment.

 

May Al-Karooni: Absolutely! And for me, I didn't want to just do another eBay.  Like in the U.K. alone, there’s almost three thousand marketplaces (and) they're all doing the same model.  

 

We've got to recognize that we're in a different kind of industrial revolution where this new business models taking form--whether that in food, energy, water, and waste. You know there's an element of risk to try these business models out, but you know you can see from the demand in the market that there’s a need for change. 

 

I think, like just globally now, we’re changing from the foundations up politically, economically, sustainability, and everything  basically.

 

Daniel Hartz: Yes, very cool! You mentioned that it can be very expensive to recycle or get rid of the items that your listing, so I mean it's a pretty wide variety of items. So, it is more cost effective for companies to post those items on Globechain. 

 

It’s just from my kind of background, and my background is very limited, I'm kind of surprised that it's expensive to throw stuff away. You think, well, you just throw it away and it's kind of gone and that's it. How big roughly is the cost savings?

May Al-Karooni: Yes! It depends. So, when I first started and I was setting up the business I remember going to investors and basically saying, “Hey! I've got this new model. It's saving companies, money and waste, this a massive market in reuse”, and then they would ask me, “What's your market cap?”, and I looked so much data.  Believe it or not, there are so many of our clients, like you know, “What are your waste costs?”, and issue we heard was that the waste costs actually went transparent. 

 

So, clients took a long time in trying to break down what they’re actually spending that money on and what actually is wasted on the cycles. 

 

But just to give you an example, we have one global retailer that has like over two thousand stores, very worked out, spending eight million pounds on waste disposal every year on fixtures and fittings and general kind of real estate and property type projects. And you know by using us, they were saving easily three to four million by just giving away around sixty percent of what they were disposing.  Our current rate is about ninety-seven percent on the site goes within the twenty-four hours. 

 

Daniel Hartz: Well, that's incredible! That's a huge cost savings. I mean it seems that when you put it in that perspective, it's kind of a no brainer for the company. You're cutting their costs in half. Basically, at least in that specific instance. 

 

For the members who actually host items onto the website so, for example, this global retailer, they also receive a waste audit and social value data report, which basically shows where their unwanted items have been sent to and the amount of waste that was diverted from the landfill. As a result, these reports also include cost savings to charity and kind of  wider community benefits. Is there anything else include in the report?

 

May Al Karooni: Yes, we actually calculate like social economic environment impacts which, in the banking world we call ESG data (Environment Social Governance data). We break down exactly what you said, those kinds of basics. 

 

But also, we go a bit deep. We know something's being reused, resold, upcycled, we know if it's help with any indirect impacts like upscaling and employment levels, as well. So, there's a real mix of things. 

 

So, to give you an example, we might give away some computers. So, we have charities that help young offenders in prisons learn new skills to be able to when they leave the prison to go and get a job, and the likelihood in reoffending is lower. So, they take these computers; they teach them how to rebuild them. Then the young offenders basically sell them, and the money goes to homeless charity. 

 

So ultimately, that's two impacts. There's an upscaling of the young offenders and there’s potentially an employment afterwards, and then obviously there’s the money that is sent to the homeless charities that basically could help homeless person or to put to fundraising money to say employ somebody within the charity. 

 

So, we, being basically collecting those impacts, creating those infographic reports so we know which sector, where, what do they do with it, how do they affect population, communities and so on. And then we create infographics for the corporates and then they get that in real time in their account page. 

 

Over the years, we are finding that they were using them in really interesting ways. They are using them to offset tax, to put in their sustainability reports, to win tenders specifically in the construction industry. 

 

In the construction industry, they actually recognize the use on the something called BREEAM points in the U. K. in Europe, and in the U. S. I believe it's called lead. 

 

Daniel Hartz: Definitely familiar with lead in the US. So, that report is some very important part of what Globechain does and really the benefits for the corporate to post on to that on to your website.

 

May Al Karooni: Yes, these are the benefits. I mean you know they save money and they get data, and this data has not really been collected like this before--social impact data. 

 

The data in the past has been, you know, your classic waste data. So, they know how much is being recycled. So, they think can some of it can get incinerated legally. I'm just using different wording.  And they know how much they have given away to charity and usually like adhoc projects. 

 

But apart from that, they don't get a granular look on transparency, into exactly how it has helped. And you know, these figures actually help internally in companies as well like a lot of staff in restaurants that we have are KPIs on the amount they reuse so you know they create some kind of league tables and it becomes like friendly competition. They motivate people with this and so on. So, by using it in some quite creative ways, creating case studies, creating an impact within their own marketing departments as well.

 

Daniel Hartz: Yeah, that's awesome! It's really cool when you can, you know, make sustainability, competitive and fun. And if there is a reward system, put in place that ensure that if you hit this sustainability target, then you get rewards and it just really encourage that.

 

May Al Karooni: Yes! We forget, Daniel, that actually everybody's human at the end of the day, whether they work in a company, or an organization, or wherever in the world. So, you know when people first start using Globechain obviously is a bit of behavior change--you know for these property guys, for the facility people, for people internally, because it's changing the way that they've been doing things. 

 

So, you know first they may seem reluctant, but you know once they start giving away things and they see how people react and the impacts that they are creating. You know we get so many nice “Thank You Letters”. Like one charity was like taking medical equipment to Libya and they were like, “This our lifeline, we can't thank you enough”. This is just a doctor here that set up a social enterprise to go and help rebuild of hospitals in war and conflict areas. 

 

Having that kind of feedback sent back to people in the NHS working is a great boost of morale. It motivates them to do more, and it's very aligned with their objectives and ethos about community. Because not only do charities take things for locally, but they can take things internationally as well from the NHS. It's a really lovely, kind of positive impact story for them.

 

Daniel Hartz: Yes, that's fantastic! And speaking of the charities- and you know, like you mentioned this charity and Libya Globechain, has saved charities about two million pounds because the charities can pick up items for free rather than needing to actually purchase them. 


So, for example, as we talk about you know, rather than buying a desk or anything for the office, the charity just picks it up and they don't have to buy it. What's really interesting is that there is this win-win-win scenario that Globechain provides, which is it's a win for the corporate because they're saving money by posting it on Globechain rather than throwing away. It's a win for the environment because waste is being diverted from landfill and then the third win is for the charity because they're getting stuff for free. 

 

So, such a powerful triangle that you've made. Everyone wins and you're right in the center facilitating all of it. Are there any types of charities and specific that are using Globechain more than others, or are there any charities that benefit the most?

 

May Al Karooni: Yes, I mean, it goes in kind of different phases, actually. 

 

There was one, earlier in the year, I would say it was very much the arts.  Charities that see themselves as arts side of things but we have a lot of disaster recovery charities, refugee charities, our homeless charities, and children in education so we do school as well. They don't have to be charities and we're seeing a lot more kind of social enterprise and startups using it too. 

 

Because, ultimately, we've got three types of users. We have like resellers, which the charities sell on eBay or in their shops and raise money for like heart disease and cancer, research, and things like that. And then we have the reusers, which either will reuse things internally for their own benefit, as you said, like you know, the use of tables and chairs for their office, and save them like say a couple thousand dollars. You know that’s a big saving to a small business and at the same time they reuse it for third parties that they are representing, like what I said, homeless and refugee crisis. They take it and have things there like, for example, we do another retailer, they were refurbishing a huge office. They had a thousand pedestals and for someone who doesn’t know pedestals are-- they are the two sets of drawers that usually go underneath the table that made of metal have a lock. 

 

So, you know a lot of those becoming redundant now, because people are so nomadic, they have a laptop and they don't really need a desk with the set of drawers. You know we hardly use stationary  anymore. So we get a lot of pedestals on the sites and we had that one point a thousand to be given away and we have a really large refugee charity and took them and actually took them to refugee camps down in South of England to use for storage for clothing for the refugees. So, it was a really simple thinking behind it, really powerful, because you know we see the refugees that that you know where they’re going to settle their clothes.

 

At the end of the day, so that was like a really interesting kind of reuse case study there. Other charities are really creative in the up cycle. So lot of, like artists,  eco-designers we'll take it and make installations will create new products out of it and sell them and we like those types of charities, because we like the fact that we can enable people to think a little bit  differently about the products being listed on there, what they can use it for specifically construction material, you can get some really strange things and you wonder what they are and you know you get five requests for them and you thinking what are they going to do with that.

 

Daniel Hartz: Yes, exactly there's so many different uses for. And it's great to hear that it doesn't really matter what people are using it for as long as it's being used in one way or another and demanding it from landfill and at the same time, hoping the corporates, save money. Everyone wins and that's just so cool.

 

After this I don't think I'm ever going to be able to look at a dumpster any trash piles the same way ever again.

 

May Al Karooni: No, I can't look at them.

 

Daniel Hartz: Yes, exactly! Do you ever walk by anything, ever wonder really what gold could be in here that people are just kind of thoughtlessly throwing away?

 

May Al Karooni: Every day it makes me upset when I see them there. I want to put a sticker on every dumpster. All the stuff in there should be going in Globechain.

 

Daniel Hartz: Yeah, exactly Guerrilla marketing campaign 

 

May Al Karooni: We’re working on it!

 

Daniel Hartz: Based on your experience, based on everything, you've seen you know Globechain and working at the bank. What do you think people listening to this podcast can do to be more environmentally friendly?

 

May Al Karooni: I think you know every little help. I don't think we need to be all like evangelist, tree huggers, or activist, respectfully anyone that you know you can commit to that. But you know a lot of people can’t, a lot of people have families. They don't have the spending power to things, but I think you know I pick one thing that your passionate about, or you don't like that’s happening, whether that's on the products side or service side in market and just really stand your ground. 

 

You know like me, I always try like the classic paper cup, but I try not to use a paper cup now you know and always like if a  shop tries to give me one I'm like, “Oh! No! Don’t waste that”. So, if they try to give me extra napkins, I’m like, “No! save the environments keep that bag or keep that thing”. 

 

There’re little things to help and slowly but you know people need to be more vocal about it I think, because if these companies don’t hear people talking-- about it's not about you doing it and your home and closing the door. It's about sticking your neck a bit out there and going, “You know what I won’t buy your products unless I know if its ethically sourced, unless I know if its organic, unless I know if this XY is that”. 

 

I think slightly slowly, that movement will grow, and you know companies will have to take note of it because at the end of the day you're not going to buy their service, their product, their brand. And if you don't buy that brand, the share price goes down and then they got out business so they're going to have to take this seriously and there's a lot of movement in the company space, but I would love it to be more mainstream. 

 

You know at the moment, we’ve heard the fashion of food,  we’ve heard the fashion of plastics, but you know the construction waste that goes in disposal is huge, just like thirty - forty percent plus of landfill , so all the waste streams that really need the spotlight on them, and you know companies need really need to be pressurized to kind of start looking at costs and demanding waste companies to be more transparent about what they're doing.  

 

Companies are already coming to us and saying, “Can you do wood? Can you do you Metal?”, and you know my question to them, “Are you not recycling it?”  and they are like, “We are but it's expensive in its chemical breakdown”. So, they are aware they just need more solutions and I think we can help by pushing the agenda forward because, ultimately, we have the power to do that. 

 

Daniel Hartz: Yes, really interesting! I think going back to what you're saying at the beginning. It is very important, you know, just a little bit here and there it adds up a lot. And you know if every single customer at some large restaurant chains starts reducing the amount of napkins they used, as you mentioned, that's a really big reduction. It all adds up little by little. 

 

May Al Karooni: Yes, and even down to kind of the meat or the salmon. I'm like God, you know will I eat salmon again after seeing all the plastics together absorbed in the fish in the water. You know so I would make comments and go “Is your salmon sustainably sourced? Like where did you get it from? Why is it dyed pink?--Salmon is not really that pink”.

 

Whatever is your thing, go for it. You don't have to be squeaky-clean everything you know like doing something is better than being perfect.  I think we've gone beyond this kind of guilty advertising way where you show like lack of water in the desert and starving children making people feel bad. This is the time to create positive impact, so I think if you motivate people, and you feel like people change something, that making something positive in this world--I think there is bigger picture to see with that.

 

Daniel Hartz: So, if people want to learn more about either the circular economy or waste or to read you know, do you have any books that you could recommend about? Or a book that inspired you to make some changes?

 

May Al Karooni: Gosh! Books-wise, you know, I have no time for books now. I used to read a lot. I wouldn’t say any books inspired me about circular economy, the kind of leading, reuse movement, the kind of like at the beginning of when people went using reuse. 

 

I would definitely recommend Ellen MacArthur foundation website for the amazing circ-reports.  I mean, she was the pioneer and creating kind of this movement of circ economies, then engaging businesses and people.  So, she's worked really hard and you know foundation to input that the limelight but have reports of a very good if you want to understand the technicalities of circ-economics and it got a lot of case studies. So, I definitely would recommend that type of book.

 

My favorite books are actually more business books because I see the circ-economy being just like the new business model of the future,  and I love kind of Malcolm Gladwell books like “Tipping point” and “Outliers” because you know the circ economy is a type of outlier and it's the same way and I think we will get to a tipping point with it. So, I would recommend those types of books to motivate somebody to do something. 

 

Daniel Hartz: A Malcolm Gladwell book I think has a place on pretty much any person’s shelf or library.  Thank you so much, May! This has been very interesting. It's been very informative and, like I said, I don't think I'll be able to ever look at trash the same way. 

 

If people want to learn more about the work you're doing, where can people find you?

 

May Al Karooni:  I mean basically just go on to a Globechain: G., L., O., B., E., C., H., A., I., N., dot com , and you be diverted to our own page and we've got blogs on their, and we got Press site to read about these videos,  and obviously we’ve got the Market place--that's probably the best place to start I’m saying and you can contact us as well--There is a contact us form there.

 

Daniel Hartz: Great! Thank you so much.

Thank you so much for listening to Episode 2 of Season 2!

 

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Thanks and talk to you soon!

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