Cat Harding, co-founder of the Melbourne-based social enterprise, PonyUp for Good, calls their latest collaboration with Telstra a “win-win-win project”.

“This was the perfect example of the circular economy in action,” she says. “In over five years, I don’t think there’s been another project we have worked on with Telstra which has had such a variety of impacts – helping so many people in so many different ways.”

The initiative began with a simple mission: to find a home for 1,100 brand-new staff uniforms that had become obsolete. PonyUp and their logistics partner The Activ Group found a new home for the clothes through an inspiring enterprise called Ready Set, which provides clothes and coaching to impoverished jobseekers – the kind of people who might miss an interview simply because they do not have access to appropriate clothing.

What came next were two less anticipated ‘wins’. Because most of the uniforms had rubberised logos, it was relatively easy to remove the branding to make the outfits suitable for reuse. Enter Reservoir Neighbourhood House, a community facility in northern Melbourne that provides a welcoming space for older residents, refugees and other vulnerable residents.

“Removing the branding allowed us to provide work from home for several ladies who’d lost their jobs due to COVID,” explains Cat. “They removed the tags and logos from the trousers and skirts, which went to Ready Set. There was also a heap of maternity skirts, which we were able to pass to Olivia’s Place to assist pregnant women in need.”

Modelling what’s possible

Although the remaining shirts and vests had embroidered logos and could not be reused, they were shredded and used for stuffing pillows, couches and cushions. “This was really a model for what’s possible when you put your mind to it,” says Cat. “Not only was there the environmental outcome of avoiding landfill and the community outcome of providing quality clothes to people experiencing hardship, there were strong social outcomes through the employment component, as well as meals donated to families in need through SecondBite.”

Renowned for rescuing surplus food and helping charities feed vulnerable Australians, SecondBite is a long-term partner of PonyUp, which donates 50% of all its proceeds to the charity, and has now contributed over 500,000 meals through their channels.

“By the end of February, our projects with Telstra had contributed 100,000 meals to vulnerable Australians,” says Cat Harding. “Telstra and its staff should be very proud that they are contributing to such an important cause.”

Since 2016, PonyUp’s partnership with Telstra has collected more than 23,500 kilograms of “old technology”– with new uses found for 51.3% of the hardware it’s received, and the remainder being recycled and harvested for copper, nickel, aluminium, and rare-earth minerals.

“Telstra take their sustainability seriously and build it into their strategic targets at a senior level, which makes sure it filters down to all parts of the business,” says Cat Harding. “They’ve set a target in their sustainability strategy to reuse or recycle 500,000 modems, mobiles and other devices each year to 2025.

“This is not just a ‘nice to have’. People are actually focused on achieving specific targets, which makes a huge difference to a business like ours.”

Find out more about our wonderful partners PonyUp for Good, Second Bite and Ready Set.