When it comes to being environmentally friendly or “green” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re like most people, recycling is the word that bounces around your head. But, while that was ideal in the days before plastic and e-waste, our new world of synthetic materials and complex devices has rendered all but the most basic recycling (paper, glass, and simple plastics) as the only viable method of recycling. So, what are we left with?
The power of reuse is strong with this one
Reuse—the middle R in that mantra we all grew up with—has a history dating back to the first time a human didn’t toss something after its initial use. Although we don’t consider things like dishes or cars as being reused every time we don’t purchase a new one, we are acting sustainably by not tossing it.
While this may be simplifying it, it’s important to consider why we don’t reuse some things. Especially when you consider how much more lasting the items we use today really are. Let me explain:
In the past almost everything was made from wood, metal, or stone; easily compostable or eco-friendly materials. But they were also materials that would start to degrade through repetitive use. Today’s objects, on the other hand, are largely made with things like plastic, silicon, and toxic materials—like lithium ion—or everything is coated with brominated flame retardants. Those things not only last for-darn-near-ever, but they create ugly remnants when sent to the dump. Consider that while we live in a time when things last forever, we are more wasteful than ever as a culture. How can we be so naïve?
Reuse: the new classic
In the face of a world peppered with permanent products, the only solution has got to be reuse. Anything else would require methods we haven’t invented yet—methods to separate molecularly-bonded materials, or uncouple Nano-scale fasteners. Our technology has allowed us to create microscopic complexity that laughs in the face of recycling efforts.
But we’ve done reuse before; this R was deeply rooted in the psyche of depression-era Americans as that was the only way to survive. Rows of mason jars full of every nail, screw, and bolt retrieved from broken items served as an illustration to how much of a habit saving and reuse was in the mind of our grand or great grandparents’ generation.
Well, in case you’ve missed the climate scientists’ latest reports, we are back to a survival mindset. Reuse is no longer an option—it’s the only option. When we reuse things, we save the energy that would be spent on recycling (since we don’t have to break it into base components) and we encourage reducing consumption through delayed future purchases.
Reuse is the only one of the three Rs
that actually solves the other two
Finding new uses for existing products is definitely a smarter and more effective way to use resources. In fact, there are examples of reuse in almost every industry. You can see it all the time in architecture, with vehicles, with our clothing, our food, and—as we see every day—with corporate IT assets.
A practical way to reuse
Like anything else: to form this habit, you have to practice. That means when you get the urge to upgrade your phone, think about how much more value you can get by simply using your current one for longer. Or, if your laptop starts getting bogged down, maybe a disk refresh would breathe another 12 months of life into it for you.
And when you’ve exhausted all your reuse options, you still have possibilities. You could upcycle the thing into something else entirely. Or look to local communities or a sustainable ITAD partner to help you find a good home for the life that someone else could still eke out of your device.
All of these steps keep the complex and unrecyclable device from being trashed. Borrowing on this timeless principle of reuse, we can be as efficient as possible with our resources while eliminating the stigma that manufacturers place on extending device usability. Plus, with the state of our planet, it has become imperative that we all be more like the depression-era generation and reuse, reuse, reuse.