Reduce, reuse, recycle. For years, we’ve heard that environmental mantra. And we follow it, more often than not. Companies cut down on their packaging so it costs less to ship, and we recycle our plastic bottles and cans. But what about reuse? How many of us put something to further use beyond its initial application?
The thing is, reusing can be much better than recycling. A perfectly good item can have its lifespan extended, even if it has served its purpose in your own home. It can go to someone else, for whom it is good as almost-new, and in the process, we save the cost of producing brand-new goods that will also have limited lives.
Don’t know how to get your old goods into the hands of someone who can use them? Don’t worry, here are eight easy ways to inspire reuse in your community.
1. Don’t Recycle, Freecycle
Freecycle is a great website that lets users (both individuals and businesses) post items they no longer need. The first person to respond to a message gets to pick up the item and keep it — for free. Freecycle is easy to use. Just visit their website, plug in your town or zip code, and every day you’ll get an email with the items available in your neck of the woods.
You can also follow Freecycle and spread the word about it on Facebook.
2. Use Craigslist
Freecycle can be hit-or-miss, since your emails might not get answered right away. So, post your perfectly good, pre-used items online at Craigslist or another local site. That way, you can leave the ad up until the right new owner comes around to take your old goods off your hands.
If you are interested in reusing construction materials, check out our guide to specialized recovered materials marketplaces open to anyone.
3. Start a Magazine or Book Trade
I love magazines, but how many times am I going to read my copies of Newsweek or Entertainment Weekly? Instead of letting them pile up around the house or recycling them after just one read, I trade magazines with my neighbors.
Each magazine gets read more than once, and we all save on buying more magazines than we need. (Don’t worry, you’re not cutting the magazines publishers out of any revenue by doing this. Magazines assume that their issues are going to be passed around, and they set their ad rates based on that higher number of eyeballs, not on subscriptions or newsstand sales.)
Another fun and increasingly popular option is to leave your unwanted magazines and books in a local Little Free Library — or start one of your own for your neighborhood. It’s as easy as putting up a postbox.
4. Be Thrifty
We have three charity thrift shops in our town, and that doesn’t even count the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores a few miles away. Whenever I have something I no longer need — be it clothes or my recently replaced computer monitor — I take a load over to one of the thrift stores. The charities they serve get money when they sell the items, and someone else in the area gets a great bargain.
And if you buy something at the thrift store, share the news with your friends. Or, heck, bring ’em along when you go shopping. Maybe they’ll find a great bargain there, too.
5. Get Schooled
Let’s face it, most schools are usually desperate for supplies, whether it’s office goods or things they can use for craft projects.
Check with your local schools or visit DonorsChoose, where teachers can post lists of items they need for certain projects. Sometimes it helps when parents pool their efforts to meet a need. So, if there’s a newsletter for your kids’ school, sign up. If there isn’t, start one.
6. Work With Local Groups
If you belong to a church, social club, or service organization, use that ready-made community to start a reuse project.
Maybe you can have collection boxes for winter coats at your church or a pot exchange at your garden club. This also works for certain businesses with a social element — one of my local coffee shops has a very active paperback swap box where customers can take or drop off books for free.
7. Hold a Reuse Fair
Really want to inspire reuse in your community? Organize a swap meet. Set up a few tables and get a group of people to bring a bunch of perfectly good items that others can take home for free or for trade.
8. Be a Reuse Role Model
Peer pressure, when used correctly, can be a powerful tool. Stand up as an example of ways that things can be reused. Bring reusable cloth bags with you when you shop. Leave your old magazines in doctors’ offices (cut your address off, for your privacy). Start craft projects that reuse unwanted items (like old CDs or DVDs). Have fun with it, and show other people what they can do with just a little bit of effort.
Story by John R. Platt, originally published June 16, 2010, on Tonic. This article was updated in August 2019.