The Environmental Value of reuse

dumpster full of thrown away objects
Photo: Hobby Horse Antiques and Flea Market, Searsport (Credit Cindy Isenhour)Photo: Limerick Transfer Station- Limerick. ME. (Credit Courtney King)The average American throws away more than 4 pounds of stuff every day. Over the course of a year, that adds up to more than 1,400 pounds per person – or more than 8 times our average body weight! Total waste generation rates continue to rise year after year, resulting in increased financial strain for municipal governments, landfill pressure and environmental contamination. And this is truly a waste since nearly a quarter of what we landfill could be reused! Here in Maine we can be proud to have one of the lowest per capita waste generation rates in the country due, in part, to a strong culture of reuse.
row of used pants at a thrift store
Photo: Hands of Hope Thrift Store, Bangor. (Credit Cindy Isenhour)Waste reduction is only one of the benefits of reuse. Some product categories, like textiles, are extremely resource intensive to produce. For example, did you know that it takes more than 11,000 gallons of water to make ONE pair of jeans? By extending the lifetime of denim through reuse, we can minimize demand for the resources associated with new textile production (water, fertilizers, energy), contributing to resource conservation efforts.
row of used kid's shoes
Photo: KIDS Consignment, Hampden (Credit Cindy Isenhour)Life-cycle analyses, designed to track the environmental impact of products from extraction through disposal, have revealed which products are particularly impactful and present the greatest potential for reuse. Shoe production is extremely resource intensive. But there is hope! We’ll tread more lightly on the environment if we just wear our shoes longer.
clutter of used things at a flea market
Photo: Hobby Horse Flea Market and Antiques, Searsport (Credit Ben Isenhour)With increased concern about resource depletion, growing waste streams, economic inequality and long-term community resilience, there is a growing emphasis on reuse at multiple scales. From the United Nation’s Environment Program to the State of Maine’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, reuse is increasingly recognized as an important but highly undervalued activity in need of prioritization. Yet very little is known about the current value and ultimate potential of reuse. As policy makers around the world consider how to support and incentivize reuse, repair and resale, perhaps Maine – with its vibrant and longstanding culture of reuse – has a few lessons to share.
row of colorful used kid's clothes at consignment shop
Photo: KIDS Consignment, Hampden. (Credit Cindy Isenhour)The more we learn about resource degradation and climate change, the more apparent it becomes that we will need to use fewer resources to ensure the welfare of future generations. According to a recent study, children’s clothing is, fittingly, one of the most commonly reused product categories. Here in Maine we have nearly one hundred small businesses that specialize in the sale of used children’s clothing.