Confidential civil service documents ‘set for new life as toilet paper’

Belfast social enterprise wins contract to recycle thousands of bags of restricted papers every month
Northern Ireland finance minister Conor Murphy with Usel chief executive Bill Atkinson and chair William Leathem

By Jim Dunton

07 Jun 2021

Mountains of confidential documents generated by the Northern Ireland Civil Service are being recycled into toilet paper, it has emerged.

Social enterprise Ulster Supported Employment and Learning facility said it was shredding thousands of bags of paper waste a month, with the unreadable results then baled up and sent off to mills to be turned into toilet roll and other paper products as part of a new contract.

Usel, which helps people with disabilities and health conditions find work, said the recently-awarded NICS shredding contract would support around 15 jobs. But it said the number could expand when the post-lockdown return to work increased the volume of confidential documents produced.

It said the confidential waste from NICS was given high-security treatment, with bags logged all the way to the site through a secure tagging system.

Usel chief executive Bill Atkinson told the BBC that the social enterprise regarded the NICS contract as a “highly valued asset” and had invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in equipment to support the contract.

“The more successful we are, the more jobs we create and the more people with disabilities and health conditions we support,” he said.

“We're looking for work that we can generate a return on in order to employ more people. There's a value in almost everything – cardboard, paper, carpets.

“We have to stop looking at these kinds of items as waste and start to look at them as a resource.

“We bring items onto the island, we use it and then we bury it. We can't continue to bury stuff – we have to start thinking now about some of these waste materials in a different way.”

Usel's contract with the Northern Ireland Executive is worth £317,000 over three years.

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