DECEMBER 2011

Re-use equals recycling in the United Kingdom

Buying re-used items like sofas and televisions rather than buying new items is saving UK households around £1 billion a year and helping to create jobs - but this is just a fraction of the potential shown by ground breaking new research from Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). One million sofas which the current owner has finished with are re-used in the UK every year, saving households over approximately £320 million – but this is just 17 percent of the total number of sofas discarded each year. The environmental benefits of re-using one ton of sofas are the same as recycling one ton of plastics.

This trend for re-using items also creates jobs in organizations preparing items for a new life with a second owner. The research shows the potential cost savings for businesses are also significant. Businesses are already saving approximately £6 million by reusing office chairs – but this only represents 14 percent of all office chairs reaching the end of their life.

The research is the first of its kind to quantify the benefits of re-using everyday household and business items.

WRAP’s CEO Liz Goodwin said that helping the UK reap the economic and environmental benefits of re-use will be a major theme of WRAP’s work over the coming year.

She said, “The research findings are staggering. Current levels of re-use create financial savings to households and reduce CO2 equivalent emissions by one million tons – the same as taking 300,000 cars off the road. But in terms of potential impact, this is clearly just the tip of the iceberg.

“The research shows a considerable amount of re-use already taking place in the UK – often through charity shops, online exchange and informally between friends and family. The benefits to household and business budgets could be even greater, for example if there was greater confidence in the quality of re-used products. WRAP will be working to help address these issues.”

Dr. Goodwin said the report and a new online tool to help work out the benefits of re-use were part of WRAP’s work towards identifying the full opportunities. They look at common re-use methods – including online exchange and charity shops, compared to recycling or landfill, as well as clarifying the impact of repair. For many of the items studied, re-use offers greater environmental and economic benefits, than recycling.

Currently, the 83 percent of sofas not re-used are sent to landfill or for recycling. Doubling the number of sofas reused could save more than 52,000 tons of CO2 equivalent.

Dr. Goodwin comments, “Recycling is still crucial to ensure we maximize the value of materials, as not all items will be in a fit state for re-use, however the research demonstrates the significant benefits of reuse to the economy and environment. Before throwing something away or buying new, it might be worth weighing up all of the options.”