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The real value of the reuse sector

13th August 2015 Posted by

December 2014 saw the launch of the report Triple Win: The Social, Economic and Environmental Case for Remanufacturing.

It is generally forgotten that the target in Article 11 of the Waste Framework Directive requires the UK to achieve 50 per cent recycling and reuse of paper, glass, plastics and metals from households by 2020. But reuse, which broadly speaking includes remanufacturing, has never received the attention that recycling has, nor do we measure or track reuse in the way that we do recycling.

With remanufactured products accounting for only 2 per cent of the total market, the report highlights just how large the potential benefits of remanufacturing are. Even at this low level, the UK remanufacturing sector is valued at £2.4 billion, employing 50,000 people. A further £3.2 billion of potential value along with thousands of additional jobs is a prize well worth aiming for. Add in the value from discarded products after repair and refurbishment (activities separate from remanufacturing) and the total value of the reuse sector becomes apparent.

Yet, even for relatively simple waste streams, we recover just a fraction of potentially reusable products. Taking furniture as an example, we only reuse about 14 per cent of the 3.5 million items office furniture and 600 tonnes of household furniture we discard annually.

A report published by Zero Waste Scotland, Re-use of WEEE from Household Waste Recycling Centres, identifies some of the reasons why our reuse rate is so low:

  • Collection of potentially reusable items is uncoordinated, some being donated to charity shops while others deposited at recycling centres – so the sector is very diffuse and operates at small scale.

 

  • Recycling centres are generally not designed to receive reusable goods. For example, perfectly reusable, but delicate
    electrical items are often destroyed when they are thrown from a height into a skip, whereas if they were carefully deposited in an enclosed container, they could be reused with minimal repair.

 

  • Donated items are not counted as a waste, whereas the same item taken to a recycling centre is, so subsequent handling, repair and refurbishment operations must be conducted under an environmental permit. This can be a heavy administrative burden on small operators.

 

These are some of the challenges that must be tackled if the UK is to improve its reuse rate. But with such a range of issues, from legal definitions to recycling centre design to professionalising reuse operations, what is needed is a coordinated action plan hosted by government but with actions shared between the private, public and third sectors.

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