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, from the interviews of 10 corporations and 9 of their reuse supply chain Third Sector Organisations, it has been identified that the economic profitability of reuse is one of the driving forces for corporations to consider reuse as a viable activity through which to collaborate with the Third Sector. Reputation, credibility, corporate thinking, economic benefit, space, logistics, and localism are also among the key criteria that corporations’ consider on a regular basis for maintaining reuse partnerships.
There is, however, significant variability in views from one sector to another regarding the notion of reuse and its viability. For instance, within the retail and construction sectors, there are some reuse strategies in place, while for the manufacturing sector and waste services sector, reuse is considered to have no economic benefit. This is because the manufacturing sector considers space, infrastructure and logistics as significant barriers to reuse, and considers remanufacturing, reprocessing and recycling (technological solutions or the ‘science first’ model) as economically viable and environmentally friendly options. The waste service sector considers reuse as a risk because of the threat it potentially poses to their core recycling and recovery business model. However, retailers and the construction sector provide different perceptions about reuse and engage in a variety of innovative solutions, which seem to present reuse as a sustainable and profitable alternative to recycling and the use of landfill.
Some things – such as furniture and electrical goods – are conducive to reuse, and it is within these types of organisation that systematic evidence of reuse partnerships. For others the restrictions imposed on reuse and the nature of the product makes reuse far more difficult.
For instance, I have seen the ways in which some sectors identify the benefits of engaging in reuse behaviour but struggle in reconciling this with the opposing motivation of achieving profit, as seen in the case of the retail sector dealing with textile reuse. While reuse of unsold stock and swapping schemes facilitated reuse behaviour and reduced waste, they were working on a design that delivers the ultimate goal of increasing the longevity of the material at the design level. In areas where reuse partnership works, it depends on accessibility, reputation, economic benefit and credibility, which enhances the relationship and leads to greater alignment of fundamental goals.
The study therefore indicates that, at the moment, it would be unviable to state ultimate solutions regarding the longevity of reuse at the organisational level with any certainty. However, the research reveals a range of solutions and challenges across the different sectors, and demonstrates how certain areas have made steps towards overcoming these challenges. One of the examples is demonstrated in my CIWM article called ‘Define & Conquer’ (October 2018 issue). Nonetheless, uncertainties with regards to the perception about reuse show that it remains in its nascent stages of development, and it is far from becoming a norm. One of the major reasons is the ambiguity in understanding reuse (Tavri, 2017) and the fact that there are no mandatory regulations covering it.
Here are some of the suggestions given by interviewees regarding reuse regulatory measures indicating no regulatory measures on re-use as a gap and suggested putting compliance and cost measures at the manufacturing level, imposing a recycling tax, increasing landfill tax, creating re-use incentives and penalising people for waste are various ways of facilitating re-use.
Among the retailers, a mixed retailer suggested that:
“if there is government legislation to promote reuse, rather than recycling, it must start at the very beginning, with those who make the products (manufacturers). This is because they have to manufacture with a thought of how easy is it to repair, to upgrade and to replace damaged parts. Then, suddenly the whole industry of repairers would be reintroduced. That would be good for employment and industry – everyone will win.”
A food retailer indicated that:
“if there is government legislation to promote reuse, whether it will work or not will depend on how it is framed. When it was done for promoting recycling, by escalating the landfill tax, it emphasised organisations to look for investments to avoid landfill. It was more cost effective to put the waste in recycling facilities, rather than sending the waste to landfill. I have not seen any consultation or draft that says there is any charge or levy on reuse. It is all just a concept at the moment, rather than developing a clear strategy, which can be physically implemented.”
Among the construction sector, an interviewee suggested that:
“reuse is something that needs to become from a design perspective. To a certain extent most organisations will start to do something if it becomes mandatory. Yes, the government needs to step in and say this needs to be done. However, it needs to be acknowledged that the government cannot enforce the reuse of particular materials or items. Since it will be difficult to check on the quality of reuse….introducing incentives rather than mandates for reuse is an option for the government.”
In the waste service sector, the two interviewees indicated that, if there is government legislation to promote reuse, then it could compel organisations towards reuse behaviour.
Among the reuse supply chain, a Third Sector interviewee indicated that “there is only one way that government can increase reuse: by raising the landfill tax.”
Along similar lines, another Third Sector interviewee suggested that:
“from my perspective, I am not a great believer of legislation. I think we already have too much legislation. The government should make policies and charge sectors in solving their problems. Charging the companies who produce white goods appliance some cost of disposal and getting fine in the throwing of mattresses can help to solve the problem. So instead of making reuse mandate as it could then encourage people to buy less reusable items, the solution is to penalise people for waste.”
The aforementioned suggestions indicate that, along with identifying materials for reuse, the leaders in the field indicate that an effective strategy would be to declare some form of tax for recycling and recovery and providing some form of incentive for engaging in reuse, to motivate organisations to move up the waste hierarchy.
Reuse intervention is ever more critical, particularly in current unprecedented times when reducing single-use plastic waste seems to lose ground over fears of virus contamination!
 Interviews were conducted before Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015.