Make do and mend, pre-loved, second hand, up-cycling, reconditioning, pre-owned, donated….
As part of its new strategy on waste prevention the Danish Ministry of Environment wants to make it easier for Danes to share more in order to prevent waste. Re-using products has always been recognised as an important component to effective waste management strategies, but it is the first time that Denmark has explicitly identified it as a policy target.
“In Denmark we produce more waste per capita than most other countries in the world. We throw things out that are still functioning. Therefore, we must rethink the way we consume, and one of the ways is to get Danes to share more”, says Kirsten Brosbøl, Danish Environment Minister.
We must rethink the way we consume – we must share more!
“Denmark without waste II” will support 72 initiatives directed at both consumers and businesses divided into five key themes: food waste, building & construction, clothing & textiles, electronics and packaging. These initiatives are all about resource efficiency, waste minimisation and ’sharing’ or re-use!
Some preliminary advice given includes encouraging Danes to exchange or pass on baby clothes, sharing drills amongst neighbours and using your mobile phone for longer. The Ministry is also launching a new portal called “Environment directory – the easy way to a green life” containing information about how to consume more sustainably and thus prevent waste. It will air in 2015 as part of the Danish Environment Agency’s website mst.dk.
Advocates of circular economy ideas, such as Professor Walter Stahel, a longstanding supporter of the circular economic model, or more recently Ellen MacArthur (who presented circular economy thinking at the World Economic Forum), maintain that reusing is as important, if not more so, than material recovery through recycling in a sustainable waste management system.
But don’t we do this already? Charity shops and organisations have for years been the dropping and distributing point for unwanted, yet still functional, items. Libraries are the epitome of a ‘sharing’ or ‘collaborative’ community institution. Cars are fixed over and over to extend their shelf-life, while tailors still update or refit old clothes. In the UK ‘car-boot sales’ have been the rage for years. While all over the world flea-markets are serious attractions! Family, friends and neighbours share things like garden tools all the time.
Products are getting a second lease of life through these avenues – saving money, extending product life times and postponing, and therefore, reducing pressure on final waste disposal methods. But the reality is that what and how much is reused still represents a small percentage of the total functional products that are thrown away. According to one study by UK NGO WRAP only 17% of sofas, 14% of office chairs and 1 in 7 televisions get re-used in the UK. Nearly 615,000 tonnes of material that currently finds its way to landfill or incineration could instead be repaired, resold or donated.
Encouraging repair and reuse is quite challenging. How do you change consumer desire for the convenience of disposable products and the enjoyment of new things? Firstly, we would have to accept ‘used’ as good enough, the norm? Would you be willing to buy a used item as a gift (antiques aside!)? Secondly, consumers need to choose repair over the convenience of throwing a product in the bin, which is both a cost and convenience issue; repairing has to be economical and easy to do! Desirability, affordability, convenience, design for repair and quality control are some of the issues that thwart more reuse.
What’s exciting though is that there are a myriad of new projects, businesses and networks out there trying to make this happen. Fixing, re-using and sharing is becoming a serious hive of community and business activity – not just a community or charitable service.
Now there is a prolific array of websites through which individuals can make money selling used goods: eBay, Facebook, Gumtree and Preloved while online shops like Cash Convertors, Cash-in-your-gadgets and CeX buy your unwanted electrical goods. Even Amazon enables people to sell their second-hand books through its website.
Projects which enable people to repair their goods are proliferating in the UK. Such as the Restart Project – ‘a London-based social enterprise that encourages and empowers people to use their electronics longer, by sharing repair and maintenance skills‘; iFixit which produces free repair manuals for everything; Fixperts which links product designers with people who need a product fixed to solve it; Superuse Studios which helps design systems to make effective use of waste flows; and Ricoh which takes back copiers and printers, dismantles, reassembles, improves and then sells again.
Waste is an undervalued resource!
Other than Denmark other cities and countries are taking on the sharing ideology. In 2012, Seoul set about becoming a model for a sharing economy, calling itself the Sharing City. The city aims to expand sharing infrastructure, promote sharing enterprises, support sharing startups, utilise idle public resources more effectively, and provide more access to data and digital works.
Basically, waste can not – and should not – be treated like waste. Waste is a resource! We need more ambitious policies like the Danish waste management strategy, EU recycling/reuse targets and WEEE Directive. We need more products designed with reuse or recycling in mind. We need more organisations and businesses that enable reusing. We need consumers to consume differently.
The World Bank estimates that by 2100 the growing global urban population will be producing three times as much waste as it does today. While waste output will peak in developed countries around 2050, output in emerging and developing countries will continue to rise – with global generation of solid waste hitting 11 million tonnes a day by the end of the century. Wow!
Without changing our waste mindset these 11 million tonnes will be squandered – ending up in a landfill or as incinerator ash. It is time to ‘waste not want not’!