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Reuse: it’s better than recycling

October 24, 2010
By Jay Rowe

Highlights from the ReuseConex convention

I had the pleasure of attending ReuseConex, a convention hosted by the Reuse Alliance in Raleigh, NC. I wish I could’ve brought back the weather (temps in the high 70s and incredibly sunny almost every day) but I did manage to take some great notes and meet some very interesting people, some of whom live and work not too far from us. Rather than give you a play by play account of my week, I’ll just copy my notes, along with some commentary, and some pictures to show you what I’m talking about.

The first thing that stood out was the broad scope of reuse, and how big a part of our economy it is. From building materials reuse, to furniture banks, creative reuse, agricultural and food reuse, the list goes on and on. The next thing I noticed was the dominance of the non-profit business model. Organizations seemed to live on grand money. About half of businesses were somewhat to completely self-sufficient, while the other half were living grant to grant. The most important point made was that recycling is great, and a vital part of a green economy, but it automatically involves a good deal of embodied energy. Reuse requires almost no energy, and has the potential to create up to 4 times as many jobs for the same item compared to recycling. It should be a no-brainer that reuse is a “greener” option, but recycling has become such a buzz term that it has taken priority in the green community.

Following is a list of the different resources and websites thrown at me during the week. Some of them aren’t particularly important to the Western NY area, but might serve as a good example of what’s being done elsewhere.

  • ReusePDX, a coalition of reuse-based non-profits serving Portland, Oregon.
  • EPEAT is a system that helps purchasers evaluate, compare and select electronic products based on their environmental attributes.
  • International E-Waste Design Competition. 
RIT students were a finalist for reusing cellphone parts.
  • GIY Suppy, a green roof design and supply
 store. Check out the Gaia soil
blue roof system.
  • Public Architecture - the 1% program urges architects to give 1% of their time to help non-profits
  • Design for Reuse primer.
  • Thousands of tons of medical surplus are wasted in the US each year due to insurance company regulations. The Afya Foundation finds a home for medical surplus overseas, where many nations are in dire need.
  • The New Orleans Reuse District - an interesting concept that was recently made an official city district.
  • Reuse Action, a Buffalo reuse consulting business.
    The Northeast Recycling Council.

  • Reuse Marketplace - an aggregator of Northeast reuse exchanges.
  • RestoreNY and New York Community Development Block Grants (New York grant programs)
  • A national directory of furniture banks
  • Second Use in Seattle.
  • EPA WasteWise
  • World Business Council For Sustainable Development
  • Sustainable Materials 2020
  • The Goodwill Donation calculator, a smart idea that enables donors to measure their carbon savings.
  • The Green Chair Project
  • The Loading Dock materials reuse center in Maryland.
  • Reuseit.com, an online reusables store.
  • ShareOurShoes.org, taking used shoes and finding a new home for them in places like Haiti.
  • Planet Reuse, soon to be launching Planet Restore, a national virtual reuse market, coming February 2011.
  • Carbon savings (simple formula) = tonnage diverted x 3.2
  • iChooseToReuse.org (not yet launched) - similar to earth911.com, but for reuse.
  • The EPA Warm model for measuring GHG emissions.

    There was a tour that followed the conference. We visited 4 locations that were successfully incorporating reuse into their business. The first was the Scrap Exchange of Durham. They take scraps from commercial and industrial manufacturing and divert them from the landfills, often benefiting school art programs, community groups, designers, and more. Then we stopped by Teaming for Technology, a program of the Wake County (Triangle) United Way. They refurbish used computers and sell them back to local non-profits for $40 each. After that was a stop at the Wake County Habitat for Humanity Restore, a 40000 sq ft model of building materials reuse efficiency. Finally we got a chance to visit the Villas at State St., a project of Builders of Hope. They’re mission is to help “rebuild lives and homes by providing safe, affordable housing to working families”, by renovating and often relocating quality houses to target neighborhoods.

    I left the conference and tour with my head spinning. There are so many successful reuse operations out there right now, diverting tons of materials from the waste stream while benefiting the community. Some are similar to what we have locally, while others are nothing like what we have here. It makes me wonder: what else can we do?

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