Why Reusing Beats Recycling

Reusing is often confused with recycling, but they are really quite different. Reusing in the broadest sense means any activity that lengthens the life of an item.

Recycling, on the other hand, is the reprocessing of an item into a new raw material for use in a new product – for example grinding a tire and incorporating it into a road-surfacing compound. Reusing is nothing new. What is new is the need to reuse. Reusing is accomplished through many different methods: purchasing durable goods, buying and selling in the used marketplace, borrowing, renting, subscribing to business waste exchanges and making or receiving charitable transfers.

It is also achieved by attending to maintenance and repair, as well as by designing in relation to reuse. This may mean developing products that are reusable, long-lived, capable of being remanufactured or creatively refashioning used items.

Why is reusing so important? Because at the same time that it confronts the challenges of waste reduction, reusing also sustains a comfortable quality of life and supports a productive economy. With few exceptions reusing accomplishes these goals more effectively than recycling, and it does so in the following ways:

• Reusing keeps goods and materials out of the waste stream
• Reusing advances source reduction
• Reusing preserves the “embodied energy” that was originally used to manufacture an item
• Reusing reduces the strain on valuable resources, such as fuel, forests and water supplies, and helps safeguard wildlife habitats
• Reusing creates less air and water pollution than making a new item or recycling
• Reusing results in less hazardous waste
• Reusing saves money in purchases and disposal costs
• Reusing generates new business and employment opportunities for both small entrepreneurs and large enterprises
• Reusing creates an affordable supply of goods that are often of excellent quality.
• Unique to reusing is that it also brings resources to individuals and organizations that might otherwise be unable to acquire them.

Adapted from Choose to Reuse, by Nikki & David Goldbeck.