The Economic Value of Reuse

older man inspecting used tools at a flea market
Photo: Hobby Horse Flea Market and Antiques, Searsport (Credit Ben Isenhour)A survey of reuse businesses in the state of Maine suggests that both the proprietors and customers of reuse businesses are, on average, older than general population. While it may certainly be true that younger folks are using alternatives to brick and mortar resale establishments – like peer to peer exchange platforms such as Uncle Henry’s, Craig’s List or community-based Facebook swap pages – it may also be true that younger generations value the convenience of inexpensive products that don’t require maintenance and can be easily and affordably replaced. It has also been suggested that many of our youngest adults are interested in highly mobile lifestyles with fewer possessions.
father and two daughters posing behind the counter at a thrift store
Photo: KIDS. Consignment and Resale, Hampden (Credit Cindy Isenhour)Luke, owner of KIDS Consignment and Resale in Hampden is taking a multifaceted approach to the resale of used children’s clothes, toys and equipment. He has a traditional storefront where he and his family provide a friendly greeting, but he also posts available products on Facebook and has an active EBay store. Luke’s business helps to support his family and provides more affordable options for other families in the community.
older woman posing by a dining hutch at an antique store
Photo: Pumpkin Patch Antiques, Searsport (Credit Cindy Isenhour)Maine is well known as an antiques destination. Phyllis Sommer, owner of Pumpkin Patch Antiques in Searsport, has been in business for more than 40 years and has greeted customers from around the world. Like many antique dealers, Phyllis says that the majority of her customers are from out of state and visit during the summer. While we don’t yet have a good sense of the revenue the reuse sector brings into the state, it is clear that many vacationers come to Maine, at least in part, to hunt for treasures in our antiques, rare books and collectibles shops.
woman signing a release form behind the counter at a thrift store
Photo: Hands of Hope Thrift Store, Bangor (Credit Cindy Isenhour)Maine’s reuse economy is complex and composed of many different types of businesses, from tool rental companies and antiques dealers to pawn shops. Many goods also change hands through independent sales or arrangements mediated by online platforms like Freecycle, Craig’s List or Uncle Henry’s. Some people participate because they like to treasure hunt, care about protecting the environment, or because they require lower-cost alternatives to meet their basic needs. Kathy Harvey with Hands of Hope Thrift Store in Bangor sees a lot of different people come through their doors, but notes that the store is especially important for families in need, including those who sign up to take part in their annual holiday gift drive.
spare wheels and other parts at a bike repair shop
Photo: Portland Gear Hub Workbench, Portland (Credit Courtney King)Manufacturers have very few incentives to produce long-lasting, durable goods. Many new products are intentionally designed to have a short lifetime and to reduce the possibility of repair. But Mainers have long known the mantra “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” and many organizations are working to support and revitalize the repair sector in the interest of local economic development and self-sufficiency.
colorful drawers full of loose parts
Photo: Portland Gear Hub Spare Parts, Portland (Credit Courtney King)Recycling is important – but a significant body of research makes it clear that repair and reuse yield greater benefits because they avoid the energy, materials, and expense necessary to recover, transport, process, and remanufacture recycled materials into new products. Repair and reuse may not be as convenient, but many Mainers are working to extend the lifetime of products with simple repairs.