Reusing products is the single best thing you can do to make our society more sustainable.
Many of us are familiar with the concept of recycling and that’s certainly a better option than sending our clothing, homewares and textiles straight to landfill. But even recycling comes at an economic and environmental cost, as we need to generate energy in order to break down and recycle the fibres in our products.
Reuse is even more effective than recycling because it extends the life cycles of our products at no cost.
When we cultivate the habit of purchasing quality goods and using them for longer, we interrupt cycles of overproduction and consumption.
We cut down on the investment and energy needed to extract raw materials and we avoid unnecessary waste disposal and management (which often involves off-shore export and means increased greenhouse emissions).
Reuse is an essential component of what is now known as the circular economy. Unlike our traditional economic system, circularity is about viewing production and consumption as a continuum, where goods are used for longer before being repurposed, recycled and remanufactured into something else.
Charitable reuse and recycling enterprises have pioneered these ideas for over a century.
A charitable reuse and recycling enterprise is an organisation which is involved in the charitable collection, retail or recycling of donated goods.
Australia has a long history of charitable reuse and recycling. Well before these terms even existed, charities were heavily involved in the distribution of donated goods. Organisations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army (originally known as The Christian Mission), Society of St Vincent de Paul and the Brotherhood of St Laurence were called upon by State governments to provide material aid in times of crisis.
One way that these enterprises operate are as charity or social enterprise retailers – often colloquially known as op-shops. These are shops that collect and sell donated goods. There are also charitable enterprises which may not have a physical shopfront, but instead have collection services, donation bins or be otherwise involved in the repurposing, repair or recycling of donated products.
Charitable recycling is distinct from commercial recycling in Australia. Commercial clothing, cardboard and metal recyclers are a valued part of the Australian recycling distribution chain too.
However, the key difference between charitable reuse and recycling enterprises and commercial recyclers is that the former is not-for-profit. Charitable reuse and recycling enterprises operate for the purpose of emergency assistance, supply or low-cost clothing and/or the support of a broader charitable mission.
Donating and shopping with charitable reuse and recycling enterprises is the way forward.
Australians have always shown generous goodwill through donating their goods for the use and benefit of others. In recent times, we have also seen a significant uptake in people who are shopping at charity and social enterprise retailers and giving products a second life.
In 12 months, Australians donate more than 780,000 tonnes of clothing and goods to charity and social enterprise shops. This means we are actively minimising waste, reducing the monetary and energy investment needed to dispose of it and prolonging the product life of precious resources.
And just as importantly, we encourage people to shop with charity and social enterprise retailers of all sizes, located in metropolitan, regional and remote locations.
There are multiple benefits to shopping second-hand. It gives products a second life, promotes sustainability and ethical consumption and is a fantastic way to shop locally and give back to your community. Not only is it an affordable alternative to buying new, but it allows you to source truly unique items, from contemporary fashion to vintage finds.
Plus, the retail of donated goods has a direct and profound social impact. With 40 million consumer transactions happening at these shops every year, these enterprises can funnel their profits into their charitable programs. This means that their retail operations are actively supporting Australia’s most vulnerable people.
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More than 76,000 Australians volunteer their time to support charity and social enterprise shops.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to advance the circular economy and contribute to causes you care about.