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Is It Always Cost or Carbon Positive to Reuse an Item?

There’s a question we’ve been asked by some of our members, and whilst on the face of it, it may seem like a tricky question, we’ve managed to simplify our answer.

The question is:

‘How do we know if it is cost and carbon positive to reuse and transport an item?’.

The reason this question is asked is that there are carbon emission values and financial values associated with the transportation of an item for reuse, and many want to know whether these are greater than making new purchases or not.


The maths are hard to obtain

There’s no way for us to work out the exact amount of carbon emissions for transporting an item, so in theory its possible that the carbon emissions are higher than procuring new, but there’s a good reason that it’s mostly implausible (or generally defiant of human logic).

Let’s take a wooden chair for example.

The wood has to be grown, logged, cut, treated, manufactured, assembled, shipped to a store, and transported to its new home. That’s the simple version, there are even more steps that create carbon.

For reuse, you simply put it in a car or van and drive it to the new location. Even with a dirty old poor condition diesel lorry, the carbon emissions are going to be lower, unless you’re driving hundreds of miles for JUST the chair. If you can reuse multiple items in the same journey, even better.


For costs?

Ok, for costs it’s a different story. With mass production and economies of scale, buying new has found a way to sometimes be cheaper than taking something for free, because of fuel costs.

If you order a cheap table from a certain popular Swedish homeware store, it might cost you just £5, plus the fuel for getting there and back, which is great for your wallet. You could reuse a much higher quality table, and spend £10 in petrol to go and collect it from another city, however, if that table functions for twice as long as the £5 one, then you are the winner, and you’ve done your part for the environment.

Overall value

We might be a little biased because we are one of the world’s biggest supporters of the reuse movement, but we believe that 99% of the time, reused items present greater value both financially and as a measure of carbon savings.

Our final answer

By taking an item that is already in use and is actively looking for a new home, you are receiving an item with proven use, proven quality, and something that holds the opportunity to make a positive decision. Of course, travelling 300 miles to get a ring-binder for free doesn’t make sense, when you can buy one on the same street for very little, so think practically about your carbon and cost saving efforts.

Asking questions is great, we encourage it!

We also recommend leaning on the advice and expertise of some

of our top members.

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Joseph Kennedy

Joseph Kennedy

My journey is education, communication and innovation. My destination is a world free from environmental collapse, ecological ruin and unbreathable air.

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