Dr. Purva Tavri (Researcher and Chartered Waste Manager) presents and discusses some of the opinions on reuse from her PhD research.
As part of my PhD research (2012-2020), from the interviews of 10 corporations and 9 of their reuse supply chain Third Sector Organisations (TSOs), it has been identified that corporations’ primary motivation is to increase profitability, which supersedes any social benefits that are attained through reuse practices.
The manufacturers and the waste service sector demonstrated their view of reuse as a short-term practice, as it has no profitability in its current form. For the manufacturing sector, reuse materials take up space and tend to become an economic liability. For example, a packaging manufacturer, indicated:
“reuse to us can be a threat as well as opportunity in the long run. In the majority [of cases] we provide single-use transit packaging cases and would then collect the cardboard as recovered fibre and put it back into the recycling system, so reuse isn’t always an option for our clients. And if it was it would obviously mean that we were supplying less, hence a threat. However, the opportunities would arise in the area of new client potential as we can work on specific product design for particular applications and could adapt to design packaging for potential reuse in certain specific situations. As part of our sustainable sourcing we implement a system of auditing based on the key sustainable sourcing principle; perform risk assessments of suppliers regarding food safety, technical datasheets, material safety, substances of high concern; and implement our key sustainable sourcing principles with our suppliers.”
The above evidence suggests that, facilitation of reuse is primarily dependent on the client requirements. Thus demonstrating a dependency on external peer pressure for changing behaviour and making it part of the compliance.
A flooring manufacturer indicated facilitation of moving up the waste hierarchy and adapting the principles of circular economy (such as reverse logistics and closed-loop supply chains). However, they argued that reuse organisations (predominantly TSOs) can never reach the level of the recycling and recovery industry because of the lack of economic benefit, space, time, logistics and corporate thinking. Therefore, they do not consider reuse as a profitable long-term option as part of their business model, but do consider it as an ongoing activity that can continue to work for good social causes.
A waste service sector organisation indicated that at present reuse is at the conceptual stage. They said:
“for us what makes us money is recycling and energy recovery, so that forms the key part of our business, whereas reuse, there is not necessarily money in that. That is why we are working with social enterprises to give it and provide social value. The ongoing reuse projects are not something we are keen to look at. If there are any issues, that is dealt with at the local-level. Any social enterprise we have dealt with is very good, nationally established social enterprises. I imagine at the local-level they probably are not so good. Right now the reuse materials are of not huge quantity. With paints, we are sending it back to manufacturers for remanufacturing. The TSOs need to match what they do to what the business needs so that will be saving in money and will add to social value. Location is important; it is about being pro-active in understanding corporate environmental and social objectives and aligning with them. [It is also important to] [s]peak the language of corporate [organisation].”
They further recommended that it is for TSOs (re-use supply chain) to demonstrate credibility, reputation, localism, corporate thinking and economic benefit embedded within their reuse practice.
In the retail and construction sectors, while some organisations seem to view reuse as a long-term activity, others have reservations regarding its longevity. For instance, a mixed retailer demonstrated the barriers to reuse practice by giving a specific example:
“the real problem that we found in reuse is, for instance, if we talk about a sofa. The sofa comes back from the customers when they bought a new one from us, and out TSO partner pick it up from us. They cannot sell it at all unless it has labels on it, which shows its makeup requirement. [This constitutes the product label, which provides details of the materials, manufacturer and composition of the product.] That has been a real problem, so we are working with manufacturers to put one more label underneath the sofa, since no one will peel the label from underneath. That is the same with carpets. So we need a uniform way of identifying what the makeup is. It is at the manufacturing level where the government needs to start implementing reuse regulations, because they have to manufacture with a thought of how easy is it to repair, upgrade, to replace damaged parts. Then suddenly the whole industry of repairmen would be reintroduced. That would be good for employment, industry – everyone will win.”
Similar to the waste service organisations, this mixed retailer also suggested that the instigation of reuse needs to come from their supply chain. However, unlike the waste service organisation, which suggested measures needed to be taken by TSOs, this mixed retailer suggested that manufacturers should be the key facilitators.
Another high street mixed retailer shared certain barriers to practising reuse, though in their case it is in regards to their partnership longevity. They are investing in making sure that fashion items are made with materials that can be stripped down and reused for other purposes. They are working on a design that fits this ultimate goal, and their priority is exploring various options that can prevent the need for reuse by increasing the longevity of items at the design level. This thus presents the narrowing down of existing reuse partnership with TSO.
A food retailer also indicated similar form of barrier to their reuse partnership. They said:
“regarding the forecast, the partnership with TSO is in a bit of a dilemma. Since through our supply chain, we have been trying to reduce the amount of surplus which will reduce the amount of food going to the TSO. On the one hand, we will have an economic benefit, but it will lead to a reduction in social benefit.”
A construction organisation also illustrated similar form of a shift from the reuse of materials to designing out waste. They stated:
“with one of the TSO we are connected in the reuse and recycling of wood coming out from the construction site, which leads to social benefits. However, the partnership with them is not long-term since our priority is designing out waste.”
The evidence above indicates that organisations are working toward preventive measures. One aspect of this is the streamlining of their supply and sales of materials so that they are left with less in the form of unsold or reusable stock. This strategy in itself would provide a long-term solution to waste management, and indicates an intention to move further up the waste hierarchy, but it is a barrier towards the growth of the reuse market.
My research concluded that despite the differences in the degrees of commitment to reuse behaviour across different sectors and organisations, there is a common willingness and desire to find and engage with a mechanism of reuse (collaboration) that is beneficial for both organisations and society as a whole. However, profitability supersedes the social benefit and thus the answer lies in the determination of the TSOs, those whose business is predominantly engaging with reuse, to make it work. This is in keeping with their business goal, as reuse has social benefits attached to it for the community, which is the main ethos of TSOs. Additionally, they take pride in their achievements in this area. Therefore, any viable solution has to take a holistic approach, which means that TSOs need to show an understanding of corporate language, commitments, and priorities, and not just the environmental and social benefits while ignoring corporations’ need for any sustainable solution to generate profit.
As part of this research I have developed the collaborative reuse models that demonstrate mechanisms for adopting such a holistic and sensitive approach. Free access is available at https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?did=1&uin=uk.bl.ethos.806810.
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