Why Reuse Beats Recycling

Reuse is often confused with recycling, but they are really quite different. (Even those engaged in reuse frequently refer to it as recycling.) Reuse 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 the tire and incorporating it into a road-surfacing compound. Reuse is nothing new. What is new is the need to reuse.

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

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

Unique to reuse is that it also brings resources to individuals and organizations that might otherwise be unable to acquire them.

The best case for reuse is made by the more than 1,000 examples of individual, business, government and charitable reuse that are included in Choose to Reuse.

Adapted from Choose to Reuse,by Nikki & David Goldbeck.Copyright (c) 1995 by Nikki & David Goldbeck. Reprinted by permission of Ceres Press.
Adapted from Choose to Reuse,by Nikki & David Goldbeck.

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Bernadette Bultman
Bernadette Bultman4 months ago

I like to reuse glass jars for storing homemade jams and chutneys, and plastic tubs from the takeaway for storing all kinds of things. All our old shoelaces get reused as ties for our plants and plastic bags off loaves of bread are great for taking sandwiches to work. Old dishcloths make good rags for cleaning and old household rubber gloves cut into narrow strips make elastic bands of different sizes.

Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBrideabout a year ago

I used to live in an area where residents could put their unwanted items out on the pavement (sidewalk) maybe twice a year. This worked well, plenty of people would take items they wanted, even an old toilet!!

Angela P.
Angie P.about a year ago

Don't laugh, but you would not believe the things people throw out on trash day. I used to go around with my truck on trash day. A great time to go is always around the Christmas season. I have found so much new stuff that is not even used and still in the box. I found a bike that looked like it was brand new and knocked on the people's door and asked if they were throwing away the bike and the only reason the bike was in the trash because the owner got a new bike they liked better.

It is amazing what people throw out and people do not donate to a charity.

Karen Ryan
Karen Ryanabout a year ago

A great way to reuse is the join a Freecycle group.

Fi T.
Fi T.about a year ago

Let's play our part

Helen Wu
Helen Wu2 years ago

Thank You for Sharing :)

Anne Thorsen
Past Member 2 years ago

Very good point! Thank you for adding more to my awareness :)

Bmr Reddy
Bmr Reddy2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Monica May
Monica May2 years ago

very good ideas

Latoya Brookins
Latoya Brookins2 years ago

I love reusing items. I cut up old clothes to make pillows, altar cloths, etc. I buy a lot from yard sales and thrift stores. I save a lot of containers in case I think of something to make out of them (what can I make with apple sauce cups?) and sometimes save wrapping paper. I often see things that look interesting but don't know until I get home what I'll use it for.

I find old magazines and before I recycle them I cut out interesting pictures and frame them. I need to buy more picture frames the next time I go to yard sales. At the public library I saw someone throwing away DVD cases that weren't in completely perfect condition and I decided to keep them (just cut off the messed up part of the plastic or replastic them or glue/tape a printed pic directly on).

My stepdad is getting good at reusing items. He finds furniture on curbs and fixes them up or mix and matches pieces. He is a really good handyman and can fix items that other people would just give up on and toss out. He loves finding scrap metal, wood, etc.