Repair PDX is a Portland based organization that hosts “repair café” – free events that bring together volunteers who like to fix things with people who have broken items that need fixing. About a year ago, several members of Reuse Alliance Oregon passed around an article published in the New York Times about the Netherlands’ Repair Cafés. These “cafés” bring together repair volunteers (or “mentors”) and people who have things that need to be fixed. Items get repaired instead of trashed. Soon enough, the idea of starting a repair café in Portland kept coming up in conversations. With so much interest in the concept, bringing people together to explore it further presented a perfect topic for a local Reuse Alliance Oregon Chapter Meeting. With over 30 people in attendance, the foundation for Repair PDX began to form. A group of volunteers coalesced around the project and prepared to launch the first Portland repair café. The first event was held in June, 2013. When a line formed of people with their broken fans, vacuums, small appliances, clothing, bikes and jewelry, it became obvious that there was a real need for this service. Since that first event, Repair PDX has held six other repair cafés, fixing over 170 items. With 85 attendees at the most recent event, the concept has taken off and Repair PDX’s mission to spread repair culture is succeeding. A sister organization, North Portland Repair Café, will be holding its first event in May and nearby City of Gresham is researching incorporating repair cafés into its waste management programs. Cindy Correll, Reuse Alliance Oregon Chapter Coordinator and Repair PDX organizer, said, “We’ve discovered that people have an emotional attachment to their belongings. They don’t want to throw them away. Something magic happens at our events when people gather to share, learn and help each other through repair. We provide positive, fulfilling experiences that reinforce the benefits of reuse in a powerful, personal way. What could be better than that?” When asked if there was anything that could come close to being as good as that, Cindy quipped – “Well, I know I can’t wait to attend ReuseConex. I’m really looking forward to connecting with others involved in reuse – including other repair café organizers – and being immersed in sharing best practice, learning new ideas and gaining new perspectives around reuse.” Click here for more info.
Reuse involves extending the life of a product by 1) using it more than once (same or new function), 2) repairing it so it can be used longer (replacing the need for a new item), 3) sharing or renting it, or 4) selling or donating it to an other party.
While it’s definition is simple it includes many facets. To expound on this definition, Reuse includes:
Adaptive Reuse refers to the process where an old/disused building is refurbished for a new purpose (e.g. when an defunct hotel is turned into a seniors housing complex or a empty big box store is turned into a community center). It is a combination of conventional reuse and and creative reuse;
Collaborative Consumption (a.k.a. sharing economy) An economic model based on the reuse (sharing, swapping, trading, renting) of goods and services, thereby encouraging access to goods over ownership of goods;
Conventional Reuse is when the item is used again, as-is, for the same function it was manufactured for (e.g. clothing/furniture resale);
Creative Reuse (a.k.a. upcycling, repurposing) is when the addition of innovation/creativity brings a new function to unwanted materials (e.g. furniture made of old sign posts, jewelry made of scrap materials);
Deconstruction is the process of selectively dismantling a building into its components so that materials can be reused and/or recycled. It differs from demolition, where reuse and recycling are not taken into consideration.;
Durables Are goods that are designed to beused for many years and/or to replace disposables/single-use items (e.g. steel canteens instead of disposable water bottles);
Freecycling Is the act of giving away unwanted, but usable, items to others instead of disposing of them. This term is often often associated with online groups that help facilitate these exchanges for their members;
Materials Exchange (a.k.a. waste exchange) A service that facilitates the exchange of goods between an organization that has reusable goods they no longer need to another organization that can use them. Helps divert usable materials from the landfill. These exchanges can be done through brokering and/or through an automated online interface;
Reclamation (a.k.a. salvage) is the process of collecting and often reprocessing discarded materials for reuse (e.g. beams are collected from a old barn and are transformed into flooring);
Rental (a.k.a. sharing economy, collaborative consumption) is when items are shared and/or rented among a group of users (e.g. Zip Car, Tool Banks);
Refurbishis when used products have either been tested and verified to function properly as-is, and/or when defects have been found and repaired ensuring they function properly (e.g. refurbished electronics);
Remanufacturing is a process of disassembling, repairing and reassembling a manufactured product so that the product matches the performance of a new product. Remanufacturing requires the repair and/or replacement of components that are worn out, obsolete, and/or subject to degradation that may affect the performance/expected life of the product (e.g. toner remanufacuturing);
Repair is when an item is reconditioned so that it can be used for the same function it was manufactured for (e.g. clothing/shoe repair);
Reusable is when an item is manufactured to be used over and over again, and to replace disposable/single-use items (e.g. stainless steel canteens, zero waste lunch kits);
Salvage(a.k.a. reclamation) is the process of collecting and often reprocessing discarded materials for reuse (e.g. beams are collected from a old barn and are transformed into flooring);
Sharing Economy (a.k.a. collaborative consumption)An economic model based on the reuse (sharing, swapping, trading, renting) of goods and services, thereby encouraging access to goods over ownership of goods.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Reuse and recycling are NOT the same thing! In contrast to reuse, recycling (or down-cycling) is the breaking down of the used item into raw materials which are used to make new items (e.g. reuse turns unwanted wood/lumber into flooring or furniture, and recycling turns the same wood into sawdust or mulch).
What are Reuse Centers and Virtual Materials Exchanges?
Reuse organizations facilitate the transaction and redistribution of unwanted, yet perfectly usable, materials and equipment from one entity to another. The entities that benefit from either side of this service (as donors, sellers, recipients, or buyers) can be businesses, nonprofits, schools, community groups, and individuals.
Some services maintain physical space (a reuse center), and others act as an online match-making service (a virtual materials exchange). Reuse centers generally maintain both warehouses and trucks. They take possession of the donated materials and make them available for redistribution or sale. Virtual exchanges do not have physical space or trucks, but instead allow users to post listings of materials available and wanted (for free or at low cost) on an online materials exchange website. Staff can help facilitate the exchange of these materials without ever taking possession of the materials.
Do all Reuse Sector Organizations focus on reducing waste?
No. In fact, the core missions of many reuse organizations have little to do with their resulting environmental benefits. In some cases, the reuse operations can help these organizations with their social missions; such as feeding the homeless, providing essential supplies to poor mothers, providing books to school children, and resources to nonprofit arts organizations. And in other cases these operations serve as a source of revenue to fund other social service operations, such as a thrift store whose profits support people living with AIDS, or a bridal shop that provides funds for a charter school.
What are the benefits of choosing to Reuse?
By using a reuse centers or virtual exchange, you can:
find markets for your surplus materials
receive low or no-cost materials
reduce disposal and purchase costs
reduce waste and save landfill space
enhance the environmental image of your company
support nonprofit organizations through in-kind support
What lasting impacts does Reuse have on society?
The recovery and redistribution of unwanted, yet perfectly usable materials (i.e. reuse) is an environmentally and economically sound alternative to discarding items as trash. In contrast to recycling, which processes discards to extract components for the manufacture of a new product, reuse preserves a material’s resources, including the value of the materials, labor, technology, and energy incorporated in them.
By taking useful products and exchanging them, without reprocessing, Reuse Sector Organizations help save time, money, energy and resources. In broader economic terms, reuse offers quality products to people and organizations with limited means, while generating jobs and business activity that contribute to the economy.
Regardless of your business or need, reuse is a great way of lowering your costs either through the purchase of materials or in their disposal, and of course, contributing to a cleaner environment and less wasteful society.
There are thousands of reuse and remanufacturing organizations operating successfully throughout the USA and abroad have diverted hundreds of thousands of tons of material once destined for landfills. These services provide savings to companies in terms of disposal and material costs. Many companies spend a significant percentage of their budgets on waste disposal and raw materials. Many of these costs can be reduced through exchanging materials; turning what was once a significant drain on financial resources into profit!
Measuring the impacts of Reuse (Reuse Sector Data)
There are many ways of measuring the positive environmental, economic and social impact data reuse has on our communities.
These include, but are not limited, to:
# of tons diverted from the landfill
$ avoided dispoal costs (donor/seller)
$ avoided purchase costs (recipient/buyer)
$ value of materials donated (donor)
$ revenues earned (donor/seller)
# of job created or retained
# of families/individuals/organizations assisted
The Reuse Alliance is seeking funding opportunities to establish regional and/or national data standards (common language and methodology) for the reuse sector.