what are the benefits of reuse, remanufacturing and recycling?
The promotion of three Rs very important Recycle, Reuse and Reduce in reducing reliance in fossil fuel.
What is reforestation?
As new ways to protect the environment and prolong the life of manufactured products are found, more terms are sure to be added.
Of all the sustainable options available, the simplest and most cost effective is to reuse a product (or its components) as many times as possible without altering them in any way. Stewart’s Shops in the northeastern United States, for example, has been using refillable glass soda bottles and plastic milk bottle containers in its over 200 stores for more than 40 years.
Stewart’s milk bottles are reused around 50 times before they’re replaced (which saves the company five cents per bottle). The company’s soda bottles are reused about 20 times, thereby saving 14 cents per bottle. With sales of more than twelve million bottles annually, these savings add up.
Reusing products and their materials is a win-win situation for all involved. From a customer’s standpoint, reusing a product decreases waste, reduces disposal costs, and lowers the expense of purchasing replacements. From a manufacturer’s viewpoint, similar savings occur.
At some point, however, a product or its parts may undergo too much wear and tear and be deemed unsuitable in a reuse application. This does not mean that the product or its parts have reached the end of their useful life. In many cases, they can be broken down into their base materials or components in order to be used again for the same or other applications.
Remanufacturing to as good as new condition is a three-step process whereby:
(1) a used product is disassembled,
(2) its parts are cleaned and repaired, and,
(3) the parts are reassembled to a sound working condition.
The term ‘sound working condition’ is key because in some areas of the world, reassembled products made from used parts are considered new and come with the same guarantees and warranties as products made from virgin raw materials. Conversely, in other regions, remanufactured (or refurbished) products must be labeled as such by law even if they carry the same warranties.
For all the dirty work involved, the costs of revitalising a previously manufactured product can be 30% to 70% less than creating the product from scratch. This is because remanufacturing conserves the original energy, materials, labor, and manufacturing effort that exist in every product.
Generally speaking, in many manufacturing processes 70% of the cost of producing a product from scratch is needed for materials and 30% pays for labor. Remanufacturing tries to recover the 70% of material costs invested in the original product.
Over 70,000 firms in the United States, most of which employ 20 people or less, are involved in remanufacturing. Because these firms are virtually unknown, remanufacturing is often called the ‘invisible industry’. Together, these businesses accumulate over $50 billion in annual sales and directly employ over half-a-million workers.
If all the people indirectly employed by remanufacturing were added to the latter figure (e.g. suppliers, distributors, retailers, installers, service providers, etc.) it has been estimated that the total number of people involved would be in the millions. Evidence has shown that most remanufacturing firms also do well during times of recession and that no end to the industry’s growth is in sight.
Despite the positive outlook, however, remanufacturing is virtually ignored by most business people, which is why it’s called the stealth business model.
Those who study the remanufacturing industry say this invisibility is due to:
• the wide dispersion of remanufacturers,
• the diversity of products they breathe new life into, and
• the small size of the majority of players.
With the profit margins of remanufactured goods as high as 40%, however, one can only wonder why more businesses aren’t taking advantage of this practice.
Although the word ‘recycling’ is a generic term that often includes the reuse or remanufacture of a product or material, for the most part it refers to a process in which used products or packaging are collected, cleaned, shredded, melted down, or otherwise reduced to recover their basic materials. What remains is used as a total or partial replacement to create something new.
Virtually anything from building materials to metals to chemicals to paper to plastic to fabrics or food and cloth - and in some cases, unused medicine - can be recycled.
Although recycling is more expensive than reuse and remanufacturing, it often makes financial sense because it recaptures the value of raw materials as well as the energy and manpower that went into converting them into basic product materials.
In some cases as much as 70% or more of this value can be reclaimed. For example:
• Making paper from recycled materials uses 70% less energy and produces 73% less air pollution compared with making paper from virgin raw materials.
• Recycling a plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for three hours.
• 25-30 plastic one-liter plastic bottles can be recycled into one fleece jacket.
• A recycled glass bottle saves the amount of energy needed to power a computer for 25 minutes.
Despite the good news, recycling is not without its costs and complexities. Many materials cannot be endlessly recycled because they weaken or degrade during the recycling process (or they have been blended together with other materials and cannot be separated), which means that part or all of the original value of the material, energy, labour, and other manufacturing inputs that went into making the product is lost, compromised or destroyed (a process called ‘downcycling’).
Additional labour, energy and manufacturing capital may therefore be needed to bring the desired material up to scratch. In terms of strength and mass, for example, aluminum is reduced by around half after being melted down in a recycling process and requires pristine inputs to meet quality standards.