Reuse Economy Opportunity

The decoupling of reuse and recycling is essential to evaluate the environmental, social and commercial opportunities that reuse uniquely represents. The argument is not that the use of new material is wrong, but as much as possible we should reuse the old before we make new. Becky Moles and Sara Morel (Salvo) discuss the benefits of reclamation and reuse for building elements and how Salvo support this initiative.

Through our work at Salvo, we engage with many aspects of reuse from supporting the rescue of truckloads of granite from a London office building to showcasing fashion that reclaims decommissioned seatbelts to make desirable bags.


A reuse economy delivers true circularity by maximising resources and embodied carbon in the continuous reuse of materials at their highest value, with minimum downcycling and waste. So why is reuse not more heavily relied upon as the solution for sustainability managers and waste professionals?

The reuse of reclaimed materials is nothing new, it has been a foundation of building supplies in the UK since Roman times. However, reclamation and reuse, which were human nature and more commonplace in construction before 1950, have gradually become less a necessity and more a choice. A choice, which has been heavily guided toward newly manufactured materials due to influences like the speed of demolitions and the economic shift away from remuneration for more careful deconstruction, resale and circulation of reclaimed materials.

This has caused a disconnect between mainstream construction and reuse, and the result is that today only 1% of building materials are reused following their first application.

In response to this shocking statistic, Salvo is the main UK partner in the EU FCRBE project, which stands for ‘Facilitating the circulation of reclaimed building elements’ – but that does not quite roll off the tongue, so we have branded it futuREuse. The overarching aim of the project is to encourage 50% more reuse of reclaimed building materials from the existing level of 1% by 2032.

What is Salvo?

Salvo’s ethos is reuse for the world you want with an online marketplace selling items ranging from complete buildings to a reclaimed door. Salvo matches something reclaimed or recrafted with someone that wants to reuse it. We also offer industry tools such as demolition alerts, and services like reclamation audits to help building owners and waste managers with viable reuse pathways.

Our story began as a reaction to UK demolitions of the 60s and 70s when masses of reclaimable building materials including around 24 million tonnes of unique timbers were destroyed. In the 1970s early pioneers of salvage set about making a market for reclaimed materials and began stockholding as reuse developed as a consumer choice. The needless waste inspired the creation of more businesses dedicated to rescuing materials and conserving resources, and the professional reclamation market was born.

One of those early businesses was Walcot Reclamation, the first salvage yard, as we would recognise them today, co-founded by Thornton Kay. In 1991 he went on to launch Salvo to encourage reuse by promoting the UK’s reclamation network to make it easier to find architectural salvage.

Surveys were undertaken by Salvo of the UK architectural salvage trade in 1998 and 2007, part funded by the UK government and managed by Building Research Establishment which generally showed that the push for recycling impacted levels of reuse, but the tide has now turned with a crucial need to move towards a circular economy.

In response to the climate crisis, our new platform futuREuse will hold UK specifics on the FCRBE project deliverables. It will provide the essential intelligence and advice you need to navigate the path ahead to increase reuse.

Environmental benefits of reuse

Reclamation increases the planet’s capacity to sequester atmospheric CO2 by avoiding the sequestration of fossil fuel CO2 emitted from making new material. Measuring the carbon consequences of business decisions is becoming increasingly critical, and therefore reuse represents a big opportunity to make big gains on sustainable goals.

Regardless of its success, particularly this past year as people were looking to build better, the reclamation industry is still an underutilised resource, despite the environmental benefits it offers in terms of saving embodied carbon and reducing building waste. One of the FCRBE project deliverables is to raise awareness of reclamation businesses and their regular stocks. The new futuREuse directory, where people can find reclamation suppliers by location, specialty or by item is a focused edit of the Salvo directory, which has been running for thirty years.

Social and local benefits of reuse

The reclamation sector offers considerable skills and entry levels for individuals, as an industry that not only recovers but also prepares and restores a range of materials for future reuse. Restoration is usually carried out in-house or locally outsourced, which benefits both the environment and the local economy.

An interesting example of reclamation’s positive social impact can be seen in Portland, US which passed regulations to mandate deconstruction for reuse of buildings built in 1940 or earlier. This has accelerated the growth of new reclamation businesses, skilled job opportunities and new buildings constructed with the old materials, which not only support the future of the community but respect the past.

Commercial benefits of reuse

Reuse is often proposed as a noble act, but reuse is also a commercial decision. Salvo’s research about the use of reclaimed materials in fashion retail environments explores the proven appeal and connection it creates with customers. The choice of materials with provenance can communicate brand narratives, from heritage to sustainability. Whether it’s the fact that they are more likely to have been handmade, or the hands that carefully clean and prepare reclaimed materials for reuse. Our case studies show the commercial appeal in the humanity of truly reclaimed materials, which sets them apart.

This FCRBE study will be published on futuREuse, which will launch at the end of 2021.

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