Since 1937, social enterprise Les Petits Riens helps vulnerable populations find shelters and jobs in collection, sorting, re-use, repair and secondhand sales.
In the 1930s, Father Froidure created playgrounds for disadvantaged children and organised clothing and furniture collections to help working-class families in Brussels. In 1937, Father Froidure created a "united habitat" for men without resources or housing. Through social housing and the collection, sorting and reselling of secondhand objects, jobs were also created, giving birth to Les Petits Riens (LPR).
With a pioneering business model based on collecting, sorting, selling and donations of secondhand items, LPR centres its social actions on access to housing and the labour market for disadvantaged people.
LPR's 3 main pillars are poverty reduction, environmental benefits and work integration.
On a yearly average, LPR collect 8.000 tons of material, with textiles representing 80% of the total volume. The remaining 20% of the collections consist of furniture, household items, electric and electronics appliances, books, toys,... The preparation for re-use/re-use activities are done via bin collections for textiles, collection at home for bulky and household items or direct donations. There are approximately 640 textile collection bins, 63 drop-off points and 27 shops selling secondhand goods (24 in Brussels and 3 in Wallonia). Once collected, the bins are brought to a sophisticated sorting centre in which only 15% of what is collected can be sold in the shops. 40% is sent for export, 28% is recycled and 17% will have to be disposed of through incineration and at a cost.
LPR decided to merge the 3 collection/sorting plants into a single facility. Mostly financed by LPR with partial support from the Brussels Region, this investment cost €10.9M.
In 2019, there were 325 employees, 535 following an integration program and 297 volunteers.
Evidence of success
With over 600 textile collection points, 8.000 tons of material collected every year, 27 shops, 300+ employees, 300 volunteers and training opportunities, Les Petits Riens is a major actor of the waste management sector in Brussels. In addition to the 12,4 million sales turnover, LPR receive yearly donations of ≈ €1 million and €3.3 million in subsidies.
Cooperation with famous brands such as H&M, Zara and other supermarket chains/retailers enable them to expand their operations in new areas.
Some of the challenges encountered: low margins when working with re-use or prepared for re-use materials, the quality of items collected is going down (mainly textiles/furniture), increasingly high cost for the disposal of material which cannot be resold, need to raise awareness among citizens, ...
Potential for learning or transfer
Compared to other entities in the Flanders region for example, the Brussels model and the aids received for helping unemployed/disadvantaged people are much less generous. Thus, there is a higher degree of replicability in other contexts, both national and European level.
However, the big investments made by LPR in recent years to centralise all activities in a single, modern and accessible plant are outside the reach of most reuse centres. The reputation built over so many years of existence allowed them to gather financial resources from different actors and build trust within the financial system (banks).
In addition, as far as the collection of textiles is concerned, LPR work in a quasi monopoly context. They don't have to pay the region or the municipalities to place containers which helps fight back private competitors.
LPR are members of RESSOURCES (network of social enterprises working on reuse), allowing for members to exchange valuable information across different regions.
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