Reuse is saving consumers billions

November 23rd, 2011 by Waste and Resources Action Programme

Buying re-used items like sofas and TVs rather than buying new items is saving UK households around £1 billion a year and helping to create jobs – but this is just a fraction of the potential shown by ground breaking new research from Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Sofas for reuse (image courtesy of the London Community Recycling Network (click to expand)

One million sofas which the current owner has finished with are re-used in the UK every year, saving households over £320 million – but this is just 17% of the total number of sofas discarded each year. The environmental benefits of re-using one tonne of sofas are the same as recycling one tonne of plastics.

This trend for re-using items also creates jobs in organisations preparing items for a new life with a second owner. The research shows the potential cost savings for businesses are also significant. Businesses are already saving £6 million by reusing office chairs – but this only represents 14% of all office chairs reaching the end of their life.

The research is the first of its kind to quantify the benefits of re-using everyday household and business items.

WRAP’s CEO Liz Goodwin said that helping the UK reap the economic and environmental benefits of re-use will be a major theme of WRAP’s work over the coming year.  “The research findings are staggering. Current levels of re-use create financial savings to households of around £1 billion and reduce CO2 equivalent emissions by one million tonnes – the same as taking 300,000 cars off the road. But in terms of potential impact, this is clearly just the tip of the iceberg.

(click on the report cover to download it to your computer)

“The research shows a considerable amount of re-use already taking place in the UK – often through charity shops, online exchange and informally between friends and family. The benefits to household and business budgets could be even greater, for example if there was greater confidence in the quality of re-used products. WRAP will be working to help address these issues.”

Dr Goodwin said the report and a new online tool to help work out the benefits of re-use were part of WRAP’s work towards identifying the full opportunities. They look at common re-use methods – including online exchange and charity shops, compared to recycling or landfill, as well as clarifying the impact of repair. For many of the items studied, re-use offers greater environmental and economic benefits, than recycling.

These arm chairs could go to a community repair and reuse facility (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Currently, the 83% of sofas not re-used are sent to landfill or for recycling. Doubling the number of sofas reused could save more than 52,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent – the same as taking 17,000 cars off the road each year.

Another example of potential re-use given in the report is televisions. Less than one in seven, are re-used each year. This means 16,000 tonnes of metals, glass and plastics that make up the 1.3 million televisions which the current owner thinks have reached end of life are being re-used. The remaining 87% are either recycled or sent to landfill, whether or not they may still be in working order. At this present rate of re-use the UK households are saving £500 million and the environmental equivalent of taking 50,000 cars off the road each year.

Dr Goodwin comments “Recycling is still crucial to ensure we maximise the value of materials, as not all items will be in a fit state for re-use, however the research demonstrates the significant benefits of reuse to the economy and environment. Before throwing something away or buying new it might be worth weighing up all of the options – what do we do with the item we no longer need? Could it go on to a second life with a new owner? Is it really sensible to dump these precious resources in landfill?”

Matthew Thomson, CEO of the London Community Resource Network (LCRN) said: “Hundreds of community organisations across the UK have for many years been quietly salvaging, restoring and redistributing discarded furniture and equipment to provide vital help to families and other people in need, creating employment and training thousands of volunteers in the process.

“The London Re-use Network is linking grassroots community organisations with businesses, local authorities and customers to quadruple the amount re-used in London. With a coordinated network of high quality depots, workshops, retail outlets and a new web portal we are working to make sure everyone can benefit from re-used goods, and that no one in London need throw things away that could be used again.”


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