Even the numbers support choosing to reuse

Since 1975 Reverse Garbage has been practicing the art of reuse, confident in the fact that we were doing the right thing for the environment, for education and for the community.

For 45 years, we’ve been making a difference but unable to quantify just how much of a difference… until now.

The proof

In 2018, Reverse Garbage was pleased to be a part of Zero Waste Network Sydney’s Reuse Impact Measurement Pilot Project. As an industry leader, we were selected along with The Bower, Dunmore Reuse Shops and Moss Vale Reviva Shop as representatives of the 41 community reuse and repair organisations currently operating in NSW.

Our task was to record data for a six-week period.

The goal of this project was to highlight the value of the reuse and repair movement which are under resourced and unrecognised, with state and local governments directing funds to recycling instead.

Reuse and repair vs recycling

Unfortunately, these three terms are often grouped together. They are very different processes and have very different environmental benefits. Reuse and repair stand alone, higher on the waste management priorities than recycling.

A simplistic definition:

Reuse – use it again, again and again, and when you can no longer use it, find someone else who can… or find a new purpose for it. The energy required to create the item is retained and valued again and again. Reuse not only keeps items out of landfill, it reduces the market for manufacturing new items.

Recycle – a process that breaks down recyclable materials like glass, paper, metals, into their base form so they can be remanufactured into a new product. Not only is the embodied energy in an object lost when we recycle, more energy is used to create the recycled object.


Zero Waste Network worked with each of the participating organisation to create a uniform method of collecting data – no small task considering we each have different niches and processes.

We also recorded the labour required for the reuse and repair centres to function.

Equipped with a pallet jack scale, Reverse Garbage started weighing every donation and recording it by category. The six weeks of results were multiplied to derive an annual figure.

Reuse resources

Projected annual diversion figures for participating sites were arrived at by calculating an average weekly diversion figure for each site, and multiplying by 52.

Environmental benefits

As there is no official tool to calculate the environmental benefits of reuse, Zero Waste Network used the NSW Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘Recyculator’ to calculate environmental benefits of the reuse calculated above.

Economic benefits

Reuse operations have an employment intensity 21 times greater than that of recycling.

Social benefits

The above statistics don’t factor in the hours contributed by volunteers and other non-paid contributors. Each week Reverse Garbage benefits from 186 hours of unpaid labour.

This contribution comes from:

  • Community Service Orders via NSW Department of Justice
  • Work Development Orders via NSW Department of Revenue
  • Work for the Dole program via Australian Department of Human Services
  • those with an interest in sustainability and creative reuse
  • Duke of Edinburgh students
  • university students.

The opportunity to work as part of the team here at Reverse Garbage is valuable for these individuals. The training and support they receive here gives them purpose, builds confidence and skills that they often apply to access more long term employment opportunities.

Far reaching educational benefits

Reverse Garbage was started by teachers 45 years ago and to this day still has a major focus on education. Opening minds, changing habits, giving evidence of the value of reuse are all crucial to the ongoing success of reuse.

We can only put weights on the items that come through our warehouse, but we believe this is a small portion of what is reused and repaired by the people who have been touched by our education programs.

Each year we take our sustainability education messages to over 16,000 people through school incursions and excursions and community workshops.

Where to from here

This project has provided powerful data that has been enlightening and validating for the team at Reverse Garbage.

Now, Reverse Garbage can confidently quantify the valuable role we play in our community and in the fight against the climate emergency.

The results will also be invaluable in achieving some large goals for the reuse industry:

  • education priorities
  • policy changes
  • governmental support
  • funding and levies.

Reuse FTE/ 10,000t: ZWN IMT Pilot Project Report. www.zerowastenetwork.org.au/research
Recycling and Landfill FTE/ 10,000t: Australian Department of Environment and Energy
Data Current as of May 2019

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