Reusing is an important action

In Europe, we now produce 16 tons of material per person every year. Six of these are turned into waste. Even though the handling of waste improves, our consumption increases.

The amount of waste in Norway has increased more than 50 percent since 1995, and according to the Norwegian Environment Agency plenty of usable items are thrown away.

Last year users on Schibsted´s marketplaces in France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Norway potentially saved 12,5 million tons of greenhouse gasses by not throwing away perfectly usable furniture, clothes, cars and other used goods. Every time someone participates in secondhand trade it is a sign of care for our common future, Schibsted states. They call it the Second Hand Effect.

As an experiment we decorated an empty apartment with secondhand treasures – and according to Schibsted´s calculations we saved two tons of greenhouse gasses by doing so.

“In general I can say that reusing is very positive. It´s much better if the alternative is to throw something perfectly usable away. You need a lot of material to produce new furniture and other things”, Christoffer Back Vestly, a senior advisor in the Norwegian Environment Agency, says.

Reusing important for the EU

He underlines that the most important thing we can do to protect the environment is to reduce our consumption and the total amount of waste. Now reusing is one of the priority measures of the EU.

“The EU strongly wishes that we support reusing and restoring of old and broken items. The European Commission has submitted a proposal of changes in waste regulations. An increase in reusing and material recycling is essential in their proposal”, Back Vestli says.

Positive on a personal level

Research professor Ingun Grimstad Klepp, at Statens institutt for forbruksforskning (SIFO, a non-bias governmental institute that conducts consumer research), thinks reusing alone is not a solution on a political level, but that it may be a good thing on a personal level.

“Wether it´s a good thing to reuse depends on whether you buy second-hand in addition to or instead of something. If you choose second-hand items instead of new ones, you can potentially save the environment, but usually, it´s not really like that. You will most likely spend the money you save buying used items on something else, for instance traveling.”

In other words, you´ll be saving money and not the environment when choosing secondhand, according to Klepp.

Since very few of us donates our spare money, it means that the extra money increases our ability to purchase, which in turn leads to a higher consumption.

“Politically it´s a good thing to speak about an increase in economy and purchasing power. It´s a political dilemma that increased purchasing power is a priority. This undoubtedly has a negative effect on the environmental impact. Most researchers will agree on that.”

Klepp thinks we have to address the purchasing power in another way to affect the environmental impact. Nevertheless, she underlines that reusing may have a positive effect on each consumer – and acknowledges that an increase in reusing may reduce waste.

“The awareness of reusing increases. You may say that´s positive in some ways. Because buying and selling second-hand goods today is easier, people may invest in items that last longer. If you think that ”I might as well buy that expensive table because I can sell it later on”, selling used goods may contribute to strengthen the logic in buying something more expensive.

Must adjust to needing fewer things

The ideal organization Fremtiden i våre hender (The future in our hands), which works for Global rights and a green consumption, says there are three things you as a personal consumer can do to protect the environment.

To be fully aware of your personal consumption is key, according to the organization.

“You must think about what you eat, how you travel and what you buy. Those are the three things we feel affects the environment the most”, leader of the organization Arild Hermstad says.

When it comes to what you buy, choosing second-hand items is part of the solution, Fremtiden i våre hender claims.

“From an environmental point of view it´s one the most important considerations we do in our everyday lives. Even though every piece of used furniture or piece of clothing itself doesn´t mean much, it´s important in a bigger perspective”, Hermstad says.

The organization hopes that focusing on reusing and sharing of goods eventually will lead to a change in consumers attitude, and thinks we already can see signs of improvement.

In addition to markets where we sell and give items away, sharing goods such as accommodation, cars, tools and other things have gotten very popular in a short period of time.

The fact that we share more and more, Hermstad feels will have large impact on our total consumption.

“Today we practically don´t produce anything we don´t intend to consume. If we want to produce fewer things, we at the same time need to adjust to getting by with fewer things. In a bigger perspective I think we can do that”, Hermstad says.

Certain things should just be thrown away

The organization feels that furniture, tools, sports equipment and clothes are items that very well may be reused instead of buying new ones, but not everything should be.

“When it comes to old cars it´s better for the environment to scrap it instead of selling them used. Cars need to be replaced. Cars driven on gasoline or diesel needs to be replaced with zero-emissions vehicles as soon as possible. The same goes for some old boat engines that are ineffective and pollutes severely. In these areas there´s been big changes over the last few years.”

Along with outdated vehicles, several electronics and kitchen appliances should be scrapped instead of used until they break. Old light bulbs should be replaced with fluorescents and LED, even though they still produce light. Also, old stoves that pollute the air should be replaced.

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