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Deconstruction & ReUse Network

Reuse for Our Stuff, Then & Now

Returning to Reuse

After reading MaryEllen Etienne’s article, “In My Opinion: Time to think beyond recycling”,  I began to think about reuse when I was a kid and how we disposed of our stuff. 


I was born in 1964. Clothes were always reused back then. We called them “hand-me-downs”. In our house, my clothes were handed down to my sister and after she out grew them, they were handed down to our cousin Kathleen.


We recycled other items too. Coffee cans, cigar boxes, glass soda bottles and glass jars were saved and used for food storage, craft projects, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presents and much more.


It makes me wonder when we moved away from that mindset and embraced disposable everything. I realize plastic was starting to really change packaging, but when did the disposable items take hold? Many companies used to say their products were “built to last”. Back then, it was a badge of honor. Now they’re built to last for a season or just until the new version comes out so you have to buy the new one.


Oy Vey, I sound like my grandparents., “In our day…” perhaps it’s because my grandparents went through the war and saved everything, even foil, for reuse. Our parents were taught to save and reuse and shared it with us, but at some point, the tide turned and “oh, just throw it away” became the common theme.


Enough lamenting about “the good old days”. What’s done is done, now what? What can we do now to change the course we’re on? Well, Reduce, ReUse, Recycle is a good place to start. I think most people don’t know the different between reuse and recycle and assume they’re the same. They’re not. Here’s the difference and way I believe it’s important to strive for more reuse and recycle when you’re left without options.


Reuse is using something in its original form without changing it. For example, if you have a light fixture you no longer want and you donate it to charity, someone can use that light fixture as-is in their home. That’s reuse.


Now, let’s say you recycle that light fixture. Garbage collectors, pick it up. Fuel is used to pick up the light fixture and to take it to the recycling center, where all of the recyclables are sorted and electricity or human energy is used for the sorting. Next, the light is taken apart and put into the metal pile and the glass pile. More energy is used. Both the glass and the metals are melted down to be made into something new. More and more energy is used and pollution is created throughout the entire process. Hopefully, you can see why I believe this is not the best solution. 


So, let’s get back to the task at hand, reducing waste. Keep it simple. Reducing the amounts of things you buy is the first place to start. Next see if you can find a way for the items you’ve purchased and no longer want to be reused. In our business, we call it Thinking outside the dumpster. There are more and more options today for reuse. As a side note, you’ll get a tax deduction for your efforts if you donate your items to charity and you help others. Simply put, consider recycling as a last resort. It’s not hard to follow the 3 R’s. It just takes a little retraining.