What's Reuse? (FAQ)

What is "Materials Reuse'?

Reuse is the practice of using an item more than once, thus extending its life as a functional item. Often this includes a changing of hands, and may also encompass a redirection of its purpose (re-purposing). Reuse, in contrast to recycling, does not break items down to their root elements in order to re-manufacture them into new materials. Rather, reuse extends the useful life of whole items by diverting them from the waste stream.

Reuse represents one of the oldest known forms of solid waste management, present long before the concept of “green” was fashionable and the centuries before recycling’s famous logo was imagined and technical know-how even possible. Since the beginning of history, humans have, unknowingly, limited their environmental impact by (often creatively) getting the most out of manufactured materials. And while the 21st century’s manufacturing and advertising industries bred an age of disposable goods and built-in obsolescence, the beginning of the twentieth-first century— with its increased environmental, economic and social consciousness— is witness to a rediscovery of reuse.

Reuse however is not limited by its environmental implications. Originally a pragmatic practice, cultures all over the world have been ingeniously thrifty, salvaging and reusing items out of necessity for centuries. As an industry, reuse is in constant conjunction with the flow of the commercial sector, providing an unending source of revenue, jobs, social services and creative outlets, often for little or no cost. Whether an economy is in economic flow— with increases in production— or in ebb— where a greater source of inexpensive materials is needed— reuse is always present. Homeless shelters and charity drives; consignment shops and thrift stores; antique dealers and construction salvage companies; after-school programs, flea markets and stoop sales— each, in spite of their vastly different missions and goals, provide an alternative source of, and direction for, environmental, social and economic sustainability. Reuse, present since the beginning of manufacturing itself, extends the route for many materials past in the waste-stream by creating a local loop that provides for tomorrow with what we have today.

....and what is a "Materials Exchange"?

...and a Materials Exchange?

A “materials exchange” typically refers to the transaction and redistribution of unwanted, yet 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 material exchanges maintain physical space (a reuse center), and others are based online (a virtual exchange). Reuse centers with physical space can maintain both warehouses and trucks. They take possession of donated material and make them available for redistribution or sale. They can be for profit, or not for profit. Virtual exchanges typically 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) online. NYC WasteMatch is an example of a not-for-profit virtual exchange service. One significant difference between NYC WasteMatch and typical online material exchanges is that NYC WasteMatch has a staff that helps facilitate the exchange of materials.

What are the benefits of using a materials exchange?

By using a materials exchange service, you can:

  • find markets for your surplus materials
  • receive low or no-cost materials
  • reduce disposal and purchase costs
  • reduce waste and save landfill space
  • enhance the environmental image of your company
  • support nonprofit organizations through in-kind support
  • receive tax reduction benefits

Are all materials exchanges focused on reuse and reducing waste?

No. In fact, the core missions of some materials exchanges have little to do with their resulting environmental benefits. In some cases, the materials exchange is essential to promoting their social missions, such as feeding the homeless. In other cases, these operations serve as a business and source of revenue, such as a for-profit antique shop.

What lasting impacts do materials exchanges have on society?

The recovery and redistribution of unwanted, yet perfectly usable materials (i.e. reuse) is an environmentally and economically sound alternative to discarding items as trash. In contrast to recycling, which processes discards to extract components for the manufacture of a new product, reuse preserves a material’s resources, including the value of the materials, labor, technology, and energy incorporated in them.

By taking useful products and exchanging them without reprocessing, materials exchanges 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 activities that contribute to the economy.

Reuse provides savings to companies in terms of disposal and material costs. Many companies spend a significant percentage of their budgets on waste disposal and raw materials. Many of these costs can be reduced through exchanging materials; turning what was once a significant drain on financial resources into profit!

Regardless of your business or need, reuse is a great way of lowering costs either through the purchase of used materials or in landfill diversion, and of course, contributing to a cleaner environment and less wasteful society.