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Subject: Recycling, Waste management, Freegle, List of waste management concepts, Recommerce
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An interior bathroom wall that incorporates repurposed clear glass bottles into a bottle wall

To reuse is to use an item again after it has been used. This includes conventional reuse where the item is used again for the same function, and new-life reuse where it is used for a different function. In contrast, recycling is the breaking down of the used item into raw materials which are used to make new items. By taking useful products and exchanging them, without reprocessing, reuse help save time, money, energy, and resources. In broader economic terms, reuse offers quality products to people and organizations with limited means, while generating jobs and business activity that contribute to the economy.

Historically, financial motivation was one of the main drivers of reuse. In the developing world this driver can lead to very high levels of reuse, however rising wages and consequent consumer demand for the convenience of disposable products has made the reuse of low value items such as packaging uneconomic in richer countries, leading to the demise of many reuse programs. Current environmental awareness is gradually changing attitudes and regulations, such as the new packaging regulations, are gradually beginning to reverse the situation.

One example of conventional reuse is the doorstep delivery of milk in refillable bottles; other examples include the retreading of tires and the use of returnable/reusable plastic boxes, shipping containers, instead of single-use corrugated fiberboard boxes.

Ants, being social insects, have been able to reuse rail tracks abandoned by humans for their own transportation. (Kadina, South Australia)

Reuse has certain potential advantages:

  • Energy and raw materials savings as replacing many single use products with one reusable one reduces the number that need to be manufactured.
  • Reduced disposal needs and costs.
  • Refurbishment can bring sophisticated, sustainable, well paid jobs to underdeveloped economies.
  • Cost savings for business and consumers as a reusable product is often cheaper than the many single use products it replaces.
  • Some older items were better handcrafted and appreciate in value.

Disadvantages are also apparent:

  • Reuse often requires cleaning or transport, which have environmental costs.
  • Some items, such as freon appliances, infant auto seats, older tube TVs and secondhand automobiles could be hazardous or less energy efficient as they continue to be used.
  • Reusable products need to be more durable than single-use products, and hence require more material per item. This is particularly significant if only a small proportion of the reusable products are in fact reused.
  • Sorting and preparing items for reuse takes time, which is inconvenient for consumers and costs money for businesses.
  • Special skills are required to tweak the functional throughput of items when devoting them to new uses outside of their original purpose.
  • Knowing the standards that legacy products conform to is required for knowing what adapters to buy for newer products to be compatible with them, even though the cost of adapters for such applications is a minor disadvantage.
  • Being a rather minor disadvantage, metal that is repurposed later on can sometimes contain rust, seeing as it sometimes ages before reuse.


Reuse centers and virtual exchanges

A salvaged window from the deconstruction of an old house turned home decor with paint and stencils. Source: Habitat for Humanity Mt. Angel ReStore
An electric wire reel reused as a center table in a Rio de Janeiro decoration fair. The reuse of materials is a very sustainable practice that is rapidly growing among designers in Brazil

These services facilitate the transaction and redistribution of unwanted, yet perfectly usable, materials and equipment from one entity to another. The entities that benefit from either side of this service (as donors, sellers, recipients, or buyers) can be businesses, nonprofits, schools, community groups, and individuals. Some maintain a physical space (a reuse center), and others act as a matching service (a virtual exchange). Reuse centers generally maintain both warehouses and trucks. They take possession of the donated materials and make them available for redistribution or sale. Virtual exchanges do not have physical space or trucks, but instead allow users to post listings of materials available and wanted (for free or at low cost) on an online materials exchange website. Staff will help facilitate the exchange of these materials without ever taking possession of the materials.

Reuse centers include Alchemy Goods, Materials for the Arts (Queens, NY, US), and STAY VOCAL (Norwell, MA, US) have received increasing attention as reuse companies.

Helpful consumer resources exist for exchanging usable materials, such as freecycling sites which are often grassroots and entirely nonprofit movements of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Membership is normally free. In, addition, there are directory-based resources such as which point consumers to local and national locations for reuse and repurposing of materials not normally accepted in recycling programs.

Teleplan Camera Repair has introduced a free camera recycling program through the reuse of cameras.[2]

In Marrickville, New South Wales, Reverse Garbage is the largest reuse centre in the country, diverting more than 12,000 cubic metres of resources from landfills each year. In the same community centre, The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre diverts more than 7,500 cubic metres of 'waste' from landfills a year in a building entirely made of salvaged materials.


The most involved reuse organizations are "repair and overhaul" industries which take valuable parts, such as engine blocks, office furniture, toner cartridges, single-use cameras, aircraft hulls, and cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and refurbish them in a factory environment in order to meet the same/similar specifications as new products. Xerox (copy machines), and Cummins Engine are examples of refurbishing factories in the USA. Rolls Royce has a very large aircraft remanufacturing factory in Singapore; Caterpillar recently announced the opening of a tractor refurbishing plant in China. Some factories operate in competition with the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). When the refurbished item is resold under a new label (used monitor CRTs made into TVs, or cameras resold under a new label) this has been found legal by most courts.

When the item is resold under the same OEM name, it is informally considered a "gray market" item - if it is sold as used, it's legal, if it's represented as an OEM product eligible for rebates and warranties, it is considered "counterfeit" or "black market". The automobile parts industry in the USA is governed by laws on the disclosure of "used" parts and, in some states, mattresses which have been used are required to be sanitized or destroyed.[3] Whether these laws are in place to protect consumers from black market items, or to protect manufacturers ("hindsight obsolescence"), is often an area of intense debate. Fuji Photo Film Co. v. Jazz Photo Corp. is a recent example of the war between patent holders and refurbishing factories. To quote the 2003 District Court of New Jersey:"Thus, the key issue in the dispute between Fuji and Jazz is whether the cameras sold by Jazz are "refurbished" in such a way that they can be considered to have been permissibly "repaired" or impermissibly "reconstructed."

Package deposit programs

Reusable glass bottles collected in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Deposit values (0.5-2 Kyrgyz som) are posted next to the sample bottles on the rack

Deposit programs offer customers a financial incentive to return packaging for reuse. Although no longer common, international experience is showing that they can still be an effective way to encourage packaging reuse. However, financial incentive, unless great, may be less of an incentive than convenience: statistics show that, on average, a milk bottle is returned 12 times, whereas a lemonade bottle with a 15p deposit is returned, on average, only 3 times.

Refillable bottles are used extensively in many European countries; for example in Denmark, 98% of bottles are refillable, and 98% of those are returned by consumers.[4] These systems are typically supported by deposit laws and other regulations.

Sainsbury Ltd have operated a plastic carrier bag cash refund scheme in 1991 - “the penny back scheme”.[5] The scheme is reported to save 970 tonnes of plastic per annum. The scheme has now been extended to a penny back on a voucher which can be contributed to schools registered on the scheme; it estimates this will raise the savings in plastic to 2500 tonnes per annum.

The 600 ml brown bottle is the "standard beer reused bottle" in Brazil.

In some developing nations like India and Pakistan, the cost of new bottles often forces manufacturers to collect and refill old glass bottles for selling cola and other drinks. India and Pakistan also have a way of reusing old newspapers: "Kabadiwalas" buy these from the readers for scrap value and reuse them as packaging or recycle them. Scrap intermediaries help consumer dispose of other materials including metals and plastics.

Closed-loop programs

These apply primarily to items of packaging, for example, where a company is involved in the regular transportation of goods from a central manufacturing facility to warehouses or warehouses to retail outlets. In these cases there is considerable benefit to using reusable “transport packaging” such as plastic crates or pallets.

The benefits of closed-loop reuse are primarily due to low additional transport costs being involved, the empty lorry returning with the empty crates. There have been some recent attempts to get the public to join in on closed loop reuse schemes where shoppers use reusable plastic baskets in place of carrier bags for transporting their goods home from the supermarket; these baskets fit on specially designed trolleys making shopping supposedly easier.

Refilling programs

There have been some market-led initiatives to encourage packaging reuse by companies introducing refill packs of certain commodities (mainly soap powders and cleaning fluids), the contents being transferred before use into a reusable package kept by the customer, with the savings in packaging being passed onto the customer by lower shelf prices. The refill pack itself is not reused, but being a minimal package for carrying the product home, it requires less material than one with the durability and features (reclosable top, convenient shape, etc.) required for easy use of the product, while avoiding the transport cost and emissions of returning the reusable package to the factory.


Some items, such as clothes and children's toys, often become unwanted before they wear out due to changes in their owner's needs or preferences; these can be reused by selling or giving them to new owners. Regiving can take place informally between family, friends, or neighbours, through environmental iLoveSchools have websites where both new and used goods can be offered to any of America's school teachers so their life can be extended and help schoolchildren. The average American, for example, throws away 67.9 pounds[6] of used clothing and rags. With the U.S. population at approximately 296 million people, that translates into 20 billion pounds of used clothing and textiles that are tossed into the landfills each year. This has partly motivated movements such as The Compact, whose members promise not to buy anything new for a year, and rely on reusing items that otherwise would be thrown away. Reuse not only reduces landfill inline with the waste minimization program but can help raise money for a good cause.

Printer cartridges and toners

Printer ink cartridges can be reused. They are sorted by brand and model, to be refilled or resold back to the manufacturers. The companies then refill the ink reservoir to resell to consumers. Toner cartridges are recycled the same way as ink cartridges, using toner instead of ink. This method is highly efficient as there is no energy spent on melting and recreating the cartridges.


Plastic bottles (with LED lights) repurposed as a chandelier during Ramadan in the Muslim Quarter, Jerusalem

Repurposing is to use a tool for use as another tool, usually for a purpose unintended by the original tool-maker. Typically, repurposing is done using items usually considered to be junk or garbage. A good example of this would be the Earthship style of house, that uses tires as insulating walls and bottles as glass walls. Reuse is not limited to repeated uses for the same purpose. Examples of repurposing include using tires as boat fenders and steel drums or plastic drums as feeding troughs and/or composting bins.[7]

Waste exchanges

A waste exchange, or virtual exchange, facilitates the use of a waste product from one process as a raw material for another. As with new life reuse of finished items, this avoids the environmental costs of disposing of the waste and obtaining new raw material, and may still be possible if the nature of the process makes avoiding production of the waste or recycling it back into the original process impossible.

This sort of scheme needs to have a far broader base than is currently the case, it requires organization and the setting up of waste brokerages where lists of currently available wastes are and the quantities available. One of the problems is once a demand for a waste is known or shown then the material is no longer a “waste” but a sellable commodity which often prices itself out of the market, c.f waste cement kiln dust and N-viro (lime conditioned sewage sludge fertilizer). In the former wastewater, excreta (urine and feces) and greywater have traditionally been reused in agriculture in many countries and are still being reused in agriculture to this day - unfortunately often in an unregulated and unsafe manner for example in many developing countries (e.g. Mexico, India, Bangladesh, Ghana). The WHO Guidelines from 2006 have set up a framework how this reuse can be done safely by following a multiple barrier approach.[8] Work by the International Water Management Institute has led to a better understanding on how such wastewater reuse can be safely implemented in practice, for which they won the Stockholm Water Prize in 2012. Reuse of sanitised excreta in agriculture has also been called a "closing the loop" approach for sanitation and agriculture and is central to the ecological sanitation approach.

Measuring the impact of reuse, reuse metrics

Determining the balance of how the several effects of reuse interact is often best accomplished by a formal life cycle assessment. For example, research has shown that re-using a product can reduce CO2 emissions and carbon footprint by more than 50% relative to the complete product life cycle.[9] A relatively unknown effective way to reduce CO2 emissions and carbon footprint is reusing products. Often the relative carbon footprint of manufacturing and the supply chain is unknown.[10] A scientific methodology has been developed to calculate how much CO2 emissions are reduced when buying used or second hand hardware versus new hardware, the so-called durability greener network calculator.

There are many ways of measuring the positive environmental, economic and social impact data. These include:

  • # of tons diverted from the landfill
  • $ avoided disposal costs (donor/seller)
  • $ avoided purchase costs (recipient/buyer)
  • $ value of materials donated (donor)
  • $ revenues earned (donor/seller)
  • # of jobs created or retained
  • # of families/individuals/organizations assisted
  • # of hobbyist resources contributed
  • $ saved on embracing hobbyist projects
  • # of cubic inches of space spared from a bookshelf
  • # of cubic inches spared from containers of superfluous capacity when contents are moved to a smaller container with just enough volume.

Internalized environmental costs

A Pigovian tax is an environmental tax: a charge on items that reflects the environmental costs of their manufacture and disposal. This makes the environmental benefit of using one reusable item instead of many disposable ones into a financial incentive. Such charges have been introduced in some countries.

Comparison to recycling

Recycling differs from reuse in that it breaks down the item into raw materials which are then used to make new items, as opposed to reusing the intact item. As this extra processing requires energy, as a rule of thumb reuse is environmentally preferable to recycling ("reduce, reuse, recycle"), though recycling does have a significant part to play as it can often make use of items which are broken, worn out or otherwise unsuitable for reuse. However, as transport emissions are significant portion of the environmental impact of both reuse and recycling, in some cases recycling is the more prudent course as reuse can require long transport distances. A complex life cycle analysis may be required during a product's design phase to determine the efficacy of reuse, recycling, or neither, and produce accordingly.

A school being prepared for reuse as housing

Reuse of information

Besides physical resources, information is often reused, notably program code for the software that drives computers and the Internet, but also the documentation that explains how to use every modern device. And it is proposed as a way to improve education by assembling a great library of shareable learning objects that can be reused in learning management systems.

Software reuse grew out of the standard subroutine libraries of the 1960s. It is the main principle of today's object-oriented programming. Instead of constantly reinventing software wheels, programming languages like C++, Java, Objective-C, and others are building vast collections of reusable software objects and components.

Reuse of information has a tremendous documentation is translated into many languages. Translation memory systems can store text that has already been translated into dozens of languages for retrieval and reuse.

Reuse of older software

Reuse of older software is popular among retrocomputing. Most of the time, emulators are used to run older software from other platforms, or other operating systems.

Sometimes, older operating systems such as DOS are reused for computing roles that don't demand lots of computing power. However, the widespread of availability of secondhand Windows XP computers at extreme low prices has largely supplanted immediate opportunities for using DOS on some repurposing applications, especially since something like USB isn't found on most pre-Windows XP computers.

See also


  1. ^ "California Materials Exchange". (CalMAX) Portal. Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  2. ^ "Teleplan Camera Repair Recycle Program". Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  3. ^ Code of Federal Regulations, Title 41, Volume 2 CITE: 41CFR101-45.309-8 Part 101-45--Sale, Abandonment, Or Destruction Of Personal Property
  4. ^ Litterbug World, Ariane Conrad Hyde, LiP Magazine. April 1, 2005
  5. ^ Graham Searjeant (1991-05-16). "Recession fails to subdue Sainsbury".  
  6. ^ "Council for Textile Recycling (CTR)". Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  7. ^ "100 Ways to Repurpose and Reuse Broken Household Items". DIY & Crafts. Retrieved 14 June 2014. 
  8. ^ WHO (2006). WHO Guidelines for the Safe Use of Wastewater, Excreta and Greywater - Volume IV: Excreta and greywater use in agriculture. World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva, Switzerland
  9. ^ "Impact of closed-loop network configurations on carbon footprints: A case study in copiers". Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  10. ^ Krikke, H.R. (Q1 2011). "How to reduce your carbon footprint - by reuse!". Durabilt. Retrieved 14 June 2014. 
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