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The role of reuse within a circular economy

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This year’s International E-Waste Day on 14th October 2021 is a vital reminder that every citizen has a part to play to help improve the rates of reuse, refurbishment and recycling of electrical waste and help make the economy circular.

To mark International E-Waste Day and celebrate becoming a ‘Friend of the Reuse Network’, REPIC has spoken with the Reuse Network’s Chief Executive, Craig Anderson, to highlight the role of reuse within a circular economy.

What is reuse? Reuse is the act of using a product over and over again to extract the maximum benefit from it, before breaking it down to its constituent parts and recycling it.

The reuse of goods and materials is crucial for a more sustainable circular economy where products and materials remain in circulation reducing the pressure on virgin resources and minimising waste. In a circular economy, reuse is prioritised first, while it is still economical and environmentally sound to do so, so everyone can gain maximum benefit out of the product, before it is recycled at the end of its life.

What is the circular economy? A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible. It looks to extract the maximum value from them while in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

A more circular economy reduces waste, drives greater resource productivity, better addresses emerging resource/scarcity issues and helps reduce the environmental impacts of our production and consumption, as well as creating new opportunities for growth.

The circular economy provides the tools to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss together, while addressing important social needs. Charitable organisations, driven by social need and goals such as job creation, upskilling and helping those marginalised in our society facilitate forms of reuse that may not be replicated by other types of business.

As a result, it is particularly important that we understand and engage with the reuse sector on their role within a circular economy.



To mark International E-Waste Day and celebrate becoming a ‘Friend of the Reuse Network’, REPIC talks to Craig Anderson, Chief Executive of the Reuse Network, on the role of reuse within a circular economy:

How would you explain the contribution the Reuse Network has on movement to a more circular economy?

Reuse Network started in the 80s to reduce poverty, tackle waste issues. It is the only membership body dedicated to charitable and voluntary reuse organisations. Working on a national level, we support the work of our networked organisations on a local level to tackle the most prevailing social problem in their area. Whether this be homelessness, unemployment, poverty or inequality. However, collectively across the whole network the same drive and mission continues today; to offer a brighter better future for those marginalised in our society.

Through various different donation avenues, Reuse Network is able to keep valuable resources in the system for longer and create opportunities for those in need – a core principle of a circular economy.

Through repairing and refurbishing end-of-life household goods in a safe and functional way and giving these a second lease of life by selling or passing these items on to those most in need, in 2020 this helped to provide around 1.5 million low-income families with access to essential items such as bed, sofa and a cooker.

Is it your perception that there has been more interest in reuse recently?

What we have seen as a direct result of the government-mandated lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a rise in community action in neighbourhoods.

There’s been a real shift from just focusing on local environmental issues to also now considering what more can be done to help local people. We’re now seeing people consider their neighbours more and reuse and passing on household items to help low-income families is part of this but we are also seeing an uplift in businesses considering how to upskill, train and provide local jobs, and the positive impact this would have on the local economy.

The strong corporate response to the pandemic also reinforced the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and lock down steadily brought sustainability back to the forefront of public consciousness. We’ve reached a point now it seems that business and their employees are more focused than ever on how we can work to look after both communities and people.

It’s therefore important for companies to be able to demonstrate a positive impact in the communities they serve. Reuse Network has been working with major commercial retail partners for a number of years now to support their local reuse operations.

What are the added value benefits of reuse?

In addition to reusing household furniture and electricals, many of our members run food banks, community cafes as well as provide volunteering and employment opportunities.

In 2020, the reuse sector saved 3.4 million items of furniture and electricals from being disposed of as waste. By providing access or gifting these second-hand items the sector was able to save UK households over £427.6m from purchasing new.

These reuse activities ensured 111,664 tonnes of products and valuable materials remained in circulation and from the avoidance of manufacturing new goods and subsequent transport costs saved 123,236 tonnes of C02 emissions.

What can be done to give more people access to reuse?

We need more access to more products to help more people. We have all seen the recent reports on increases in the cost of living so access to more affordable essential household electrical items will become increasingly important to some families. This will mean that more household items can end up in homes that need them and products and valuable resources remain in circulation for longer.

How does the reuse sector ensure high standards of repairs and refurbishments on end-of-life electricals?

Through being part of Reuse Network, all our members have access to guidance and support and have set environmentally sound practices and procedures in place to carry out repairs to electricals both safely and responsibly. In addition to the guidance, Reuse Network also conducts quality standards audits with 60 out of our 150 members. These are then awarded with certificates to certify their individual repair practices.

Our guidance and procedures also recommend all items are tracked throughout, with a final quality assurance test conducted prior to any item reaching the shop floor.

Nevertheless, more can be done in the area and as an organisation, we warmly welcome the arrival of new government policy on professional repairers and what is classed as a ‘competent repairer and tester’. Unlike regulated gas-registered repairers, what competent means has always been open to individual interpretation. Any such regulations, along with a Trustmark that sets out the required training, qualifications and time served, to help standardise set competencies is a step in the right direction to closing the gap in the varying skill sets of the workforce and improving consumer confidence in purchasing second-hand or refurbished electricals.

On International E-Waste Day, let’s all start talking about reuse and look at how our own behaviour and habits can change to support a transition to a circular economy.

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