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Second in command

It took years to establish recycling high up on the national waste agenda. So it is no surprise that reuse has also spent a long while in the national policy doldrums. In fact, recently it has been falling behind badly, as more and more policy levers and funding routes have favoured its recycling cousin.

It is therefore hugely welcome to see new Government recognition for reuse and its second place in the waste hierarchy. Proposals for a local and national English household reuse performance indicator, and for reuse credits will enable local projects, charities and councils to dramatically expand reuse. This policy change makes great sense for three main reasons.

First, reuse is integral to sustainable consumption, particularly in the badly needed redesign of products. It is currently a battle being waged with increasingly built-in obsolescence. Reuse and refurbishment extend product lives, ensuring longer lifespans are achieved.

Second, reuse reduces the huge tonnages we currently landfill. As Biffa has estimated, each year in Britain we throw out:

l 1 million tonnes of electrical goods

l 2m tonnes of furniture and carpets

l 1m tonnes of clothing and footwear

l More than 2m tonnes of recreational goods and other durables

The need for change is recognised, including in Europe with the Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive. This specifically favours reuse, saying that where appropriate, priority should be given to reuse of WEEE and its components. Rewarding reuse will also help local authorities meet their Landfill Directive targets in 2010, 2013 and 2020 for diverting Biodegradable Municipal Waste. At least half of textiles and furniture wastes are organic.

Last, but definitely not least, reuse organisations deliver the triple bottom line, generating huge social and economic returns. As well as reducing waste and environmental impacts, they fund essential charitable projects and enable people on lower incomes to access quality goods, which are sometimes even better quality than the new stuff on sale nearby. The training opportunities delivered by furniture and refurbishment projects, and new electrical appliance reuse and recycling centres merit special mention, including for people who are disabled or unemployed.


Community reuse organisations already make a major dent in trash, as do private sector reusers. The national Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) calculates that its 282 member organisations already save 1.5m items annually from a horrible fate (around 50,000 tonnes/year). Members of the Association of Charity Shops also credit their 200 members and 6,000 shops with reusing well over 100,000 tonnes (around 50,000 tonnes of clothing and textiles and 50,000 tonnes of furniture and household goods resold), not to mention a further 75,000 tonnes of textiles recycled via merchants.

These are invaluable and growing in numbers. Project entrepreneurs are being greatly assisted by funding from the Transforming Waste Initiative CRED, and support from forward-thinking councils. Many projects will achieve financial sustainability in the medium term.

National waste and recycling management organisation Network Recycling was commissioned by the Government to investigate opportunities to increase reuse, and in particular tackle the lines of council refuse freighters currently shifting bulky waste straight to landfill. Their impressive suite of bulky waste reports, on the Waste Implementation Programme website, contains a treasure trove of sound advice and innovative thinking. Visit or get hold of the original reports.

The FRN website also includes quality reports on good practice, guidance and strategic approaches. In addition to its experience gained from becoming the largest collector of fridges in the UK, FRN has recently launched its WEEE-tracking software programme and aims to set up at least 30 regional WEEE-sorting centres.



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