It is important to recognize that the sustained growth in reuse efforts, as well as the sustained interest of the reuse industry, derives in large measure from the solid waste reduction hierarchy: Reduce, Reuse, then Recycle. It is best to reduce first, reuse as a second option, then to resort to recycling. Reuse is recognized as being distinct from recycling, both in doctrine, and in the handling of the materials this unique industry diverts from the waste stream. Recyclers have successfully kept materials out of the landfill by collecting, segregating, processing and manufacturing their collected goods into new products. Reusers, on the other hand, with little or no processing, keep materials out the waste stream by passing the goods they collect on to others.
There are also forms of managing materials that are not quite reuse and not quite recycling.
- Repair is a method of taking an item, which may appear to have lived its useful life, and fixing it so that it can still be productive.
- Remanufacturing and refurbishing are ways of taking some used components and some new components to “rebuild” an item. For instance, toner cartridges are often used, then sent to a manufacturer to be broken down and rebuilt using some of the original parts that are reusable, and some new parts. Other items commonly repaired or rebuilt include engines, “single-use” cameras, appliances and electronic equipment.
What Is Reuse?
Reuse is the Solution
While manufacturing new products drains our limited natural resources, and disposing of unwanted materials pollutes our environment, our communities face difficulties getting the affordable goods they need. One way to prevent waste, improve our communities, and increase the material well-being of our citizens is to take useful products discarded by those who no longer want or need them and provide them to those who do.
Every community has some existing form of reuse – and, every community needs more reuse now! Volunteer efforts, for-profit businesses and charities are all making reuse happen, including:
- thrift stores and charitable drop-off centers;
- reuse centers, equipment and materials;
- “drop & swap” stations at landfills;
- used equipment stores and salvage yards;
- local and regional material exchanges.
Reuse Supports Solid Waste Management Goals
Buying and using items that are reusable supports a method of waste management that has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others, as a priority method of handling materials. In many cases an item can be reused several times, then sent to the recycling center for processing. The list of reused items is virtually unlimited, and reuse centers can be found in nearly every community.
Building Materials – Lumber, tools, windows, doors, light fixtures, paint, plumbing supplies and fixtures, architectural pieces, fencing, hardware, and many other items needed for constructing or refurbishing a building can be found used.
Office Furniture and Supplies – Desks, tables, chairs, filing cabinets, credenzas, shelving units, stacking trays, tape dispensers, notebook binders and other equipment and supplies can be reused in offices, schools, hospitals, non-profit organizations and others.
Computers and Electronics – Personal computers, printers, fax machines, televisions, video cassette recorders can be reused in business, personal, and non-profit environments.
Art Materials – Fabric, paint, lumber, stage props, and a wide variety of other items can be used for school or cultural organization creative projects.
Medical Equipment and Supplies – Equipment and supplies that are obsolete to one hospital, clinic or organization may find a home in another facility, especially those in less-industrialized nations.
Surplus Food Items and Equipment – Boxed, bagged, canned and even prepared food from grocery stores, warehouses, manufacturers’ over-runs and discontinued items, catered events, restaurants can be reuse by homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other organizations serving disadvantaged people. Stoves, refrigerators, freezers, and other items can also be found used.
Household Items – Appliances, clothing, furniture, dishes, vehicles, paint, and virtually anything else for the home can be found by shopping reused instead of brand new. And in most cases, at a significantly lower price. Another form of reuse is shopping specialty stores that sell antiques or vintage items. Shopping and holding garage and yard sales are other popular forms of reuse.
Reuse Means Value-Added!
Reusing an item means that it continues to be a valuable, useful, productive item, and replaces new items that would utilize more water, energy, timber, petroleum, and other limited natural resources in their manufacture. Businesses can save significant dollars in disposal by reselling or donating items that are no longer needed. Many chemicals and solvents that are no longer useful to one organization, can be used in other applications by other organizations. This method of “materials exchange” results in disposal savings by the generating company, and saving in the purchase of the material by the recipient organization. Reuse adds value!
Reuse Supports Community Development Goals
In addition to making a positive contribution to the reduction of solid waste, many reuse programs in a community are operated by charitable organizations as a means of providing items to low-income or disadvantage people. Donating your surplus items can also help furnish a non-profit’s office and provide a school with needed supplies, further supporting the community in which you live.
Benefits of Reuse
Reuse is a means to prevent solid waste from entering the landfill, improve our communities, and increase the material, educational and occupational wellbeing of our citizens by taking useful products discarded by those who no longer want them and providing them to those who do. In many cases, reuse supports local community and social programs while providing donating businesses with tax benefits and reduced disposal fees.
Many reuse programs have evolved from local solid waste reduction goals because reuse requires fewer resources, less energy, and less labor, compared to recycling, disposal, or the manufacture of new products from virgin materials. Reuse provides an excellent, environmentally-preferred alternative to other waste management methods, because it reduces air, water and land pollution, limits the need for new natural resources, such as timber, petroleum, fibers and other materials. The US Environmental Protection Agency has recently identified waste reduction as an important method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a contributing factor to global warming.
For many years, reuse has been used as a critical way of getting needed materials to the many disadvantaged populations that exist. Reuse continues to provide an excellent way in which to get people the food, clothing, building materials, business equipment, medical supplies and other items that they desperately need. There are other ways, however, that reuse benefits the community. Many reuse centers are engaged in job-training programs, programs for the handicapped or at-risk youth programs. Such as:
- The Resource Center of Our United Villages in Portland, Oregon has a mission to provide building materials for affordable housing and reused building materials is their means for accomplishing that mission;
- Vincent dePaul in Portland refurbished mattresses as a means of employing and training their clients, and a way to provide mattresses to people and organizations in need;
- Goodwill Industries retail outlets raise needed funds to support job-training programs in the community.
When reusing materials, instead of creating new products from virgin materials, there is less burden on the economy. Reuse is an economical way for people of all socio-economic circles to acquire the items they need. From business furniture to household items, from cars to appliances, and just about anything else you could think of — it is less expensive to buy used than new.