We tend to prioritize the third “R” in this equation without realizing that, despite being a viable alternative to disposal, recycling processes can be very environmentally taxing. Reducing and Reusing are certainly the less costly alternatives!
Ask any third grader about the three Rs of waste and they’ll know the answer: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
This famous waste hierarchy – the principle that establishes and prioritizes the most efficient method for managing resources – is well established in the minds of Canadians. The trouble is, we don’t always practise what we preach.
As an organization dedicated to helping members of the industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) sector improve their sustainability, Partners in Project Green meets with a wide range of organizations. One thing we always ask about is the company’s waste management program.
Organizations typically respond by describing the acceptance criteria for their diversion programs. Very occasionally, they might add some information about efforts to prevent waste generation or to reuse their materials.
This tendency to prioritize recycling over prevention and reuse seems prevalent across many industry sectors. There are a variety of reasons, but the most common barriers are:
- Organizations may not know their materials can be reused.
- Organizations may not have the time and resources to find others interested in taking their materials.
- Organizations may not be aware of programs, like Material Exchange, that help to drive reuse within the ICI community.
To jump-start reuse, we need to start thinking outside the Blue Box, and focus on ways to recapture and repurpose valuable resources before they become “waste.” And the best way to further this kind of circular-economy mentality is to promote business-to-business transfer of resources—turning one company’s trash into another’s treasure.
To establish such connections, businesses need a simple, cost-effective solution. Partners in Project Green’s Material Exchange platform is an online community and marketplace designed to help local businesses improve their diversion rates using the waste hierarchy.
Finding opportunities to reuse materials can be challenging for an individual organization. But when you’re part of a larger community, it can actually be one of the easiest ways to divert material from landfill. Whereas recycling requires a company to negotiate a host of complexities (such as recapturing, aggregating, washing, bailing, and transporting of material), reuse is simply a matter of sending material to a neighbouring business interested in making use of it.
Here are a couple of recent success stories that show how the Material Exchange platform can create opportunities for reuse.
Robert Bosch Inc.: Waste and Recycling Bin Reuse Exchange
While clearing out some storage space last year, Robert Bosch Inc. came across more than 80 surplus recycling and waste receptacles. While no longer of use to the organization, the bins were still in good condition.
Bosch listed the receptacles on Material Exchange, which helped to facilitate a connection with Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, a retail operation that accepts donations of used household and renovation materials. (All ReStore proceeds support Habitat for Humanity’s mission to help low-income families build affordable homes.)
Habitat for Humanity collected the receptacles, free of charge, for resale at their ReStore outlets. Bosch saved the disposal costs and diverted 142 kg of material from landfill.
Region of Peel: Furniture and Household Goods Exchange
The closure of Goodwill’s Toronto retail locations in 2016 left large volumes of material in sudden need of a home.
Region of Peel found itself with material from three different Goodwill stores at its waste transfer sites.
Reluctant to send this material to landfill, Peel contacted Material Exchange. Partners in Project Green conducted a site assessment and created an inventory of available material to post on the platform.
This exchange proved especially complex given the short timelines, the many different types of materials, and the fact that multiple locations required support. Happily, Partners in Project Green managed to connect Region of Peel with two organizations that were able to reuse and resell the material: Habitat for Humanity and Oasis Clothing Bank.
As a result of this team effort, more than 6,670 kg of material was diverted from landfill. Region of Peel has since partnered with Salvation Army Thrift Store for ongoing local reuse in their community.
As these case studies demonstrate, good opportunities for reuse, on both the large and small scale, are more readily available to organizations that are part of a community committed to the circular economy.
Partners in Project Green’s Material Exchange provides a space where organizations can share information about unused or desired resources, create connections with others looking to make exchanges, and ensure that reusable material stays out of landfill.
Whether you’re dealing with newly available material or items that have been sitting in storage for years, our platform offers a simple, free solution. I’d challenge every organization out there to consider listing at least one material. Check out the platform at materialexchange.ca.