July 24, 2018
Today’s article is adapted from an article I wrote for Resource Recycling in January 2017. With little improvement seen on the short-term horizon for recycling markets, I offer reuse as a great programmatic alternative!
The sharing economy and other trends are proving that extending product life cycles can bring big benefits to communities of all sizes. Is this the shot in the arm recycling needs in these tough times?
EVALUATING THE FULL ECONOMIC POTENTIAL
Evaluating waste streams with reuse in mind is important for providing an analysis of what reusable items may be available for capture. Collaboration between reuse enterprises and solid waste and recycling facilities can provide reusable material streams to be harnessed by reuse enterprises. Establishing incentives such as pay-as-you-throw collection (in which residents are charged more for larger trash volumes) can spur reuse as well.
Furthermore, metrics that better measure the economic benefits and job opportunities created through repair, refurbishing and upcycling must be better understood and adopted. Going beyond diversion potential, such studies measure real economic and job growth opportunity. Looking at reuse as an economic and community driver can be a nexus for partnership building and developing alternative funding sources.
Communities can also gauge the potential for leveraging funds and potential partners or sponsors by assessing the impacts of projects that may enhance tourism, the arts or entertainment. Targeted reuse programs may also serve to attract entrepreneurs, teachers, artists, and others, further contributing to economic and community development.
Small-scale and community-based programs, including repair cafés and tool lending libraries, offer the most positive and sustainable models to move reuse forward. Public monitoring of reuse programs and businesses – and promoting those which provide the most benefits to communities, the economy and the environment – will help move reuse in the right direction.
On the legislative front, right to repair or fair repair movements could push reuse in significant ways. Several right to repair bills have been proposed, both in the United States Congress and in some state legislatures, to require automobile manufacturers to provide the same information to independent repair shops as they do to dealer shops.
Other right to repair legislation focuses on copyright issues. Current copyright law allows manufacturers to block access to tools or code that might facilitate access to copyrighted software. Such policy stymies repair, which often involves modification of parts and settings as well as customization of embedded software.
New models of taxation that account for environmental externalities associated with consumer goods production can promote both the circular economy and sharing models that best benefit society and the environment.
Similarly, public policies that foster more ecologically sound design of products can move us closer to a sustainable circular economy. A true reboot of materials management requires the adoption of policies, incentives and practices that embrace positive models of sharing by extending the life spans of consumer goods through increased durability and opportunities for repair. Sharing and peer-to-peer economy entrepreneurs who demand more ecologically designed goods can also influence upstream manufacturing.
FUELING THE TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE
Reuse allows for individual action and engagement – donating clothing, purchasing used building materials, buying beer in refillable growlers – to extend product life cycles, support local business and contribute to social good.
Reuse businesses, whether nonprofit or for-profit, small or large, are engaged in a multitude of activities helping to pave the way toward a more sustainable, circular economy. Extracting the maximum economic value out of our products through reuse encourages a creative entrepreneurial spirit.
Additionally, incorporating reuse strategies into programs and operations brings positive benefits to people, the planet and economies, helping to create a triple bottom line. Economic growth, jobs and innovation are already benefiting from the increase in reuse and the growth of the shared economy.
A materials management reboot through reuse, renting, borrowing, sharing and repair will help set us on a path to sustainable consumption and reinvigorate a nation that has to some degree lost faith in environmental causes. It’s a path that builds upon the interconnections between materials, climate change, communities and job creation to boost the economy and people of all walks of life.
By Athena Lee Bradley
For a comprehensive guide to the various types of reuse, “how to” guidance, program examples, and other resources, check out NERC’s Reuse Explorations Guide - Innovative Programs and Strategies.