"2015 will be the year of sustainability", said the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon last month. The term “sustainability” keeps gaining new meaning and importance as more organizations adopt pro-environmental stances in their strategic plans. In his report to the World Economic Forum, Ban Ki-Moon added, “The private sector has an essential role in achieving a sustainable future.
Many of the recent successes in development and climate change have been achieved through public-private partnerships with the power to mobilize finance, expertise and knowledge. A sustainable approach to business can also help create decent jobs, improve public health, empower women and protect the environment. It is heartening to see many companies already reaping the benefits of climate action, for instance, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by using energy cleanly and efficiently. More and more businesses are seeing that sustainability is not just in the common good but that sustainability is common sense.
Many business leaders still think sustainability concepts are reserved to the politicians, academics and bright green zealots. The term’s limited personal relevance makes it difficult to appreciate the impact that our individual efforts contribute to a global community.
The Mission of the Reuse Movement
As a self-described light-green enthusiast, I am committed to making sustainability relevant through the act of recycling clothing, shoes and accessories for reuse. By doing so, sustainability can be realized by each of us with ease and personal engagement. For me, this is the core mission of the Reuse Movement. The term has been used for several years now; however, as President of Community Recycling (CR), a social enterprise dedicated to raising awareness and engagement around recycling clothing, shoes and accessories for global reuse, I want to enhance the definition of and accelerate the engagement in the Reuse Movement.
Reuse denotes a personal engagement with a return that is immediately enriching and responsible. Often without conscious regard, when we engage in reuse of clothing, shoes and accessories, we are continuing an article’s lifecycle. In many instances, these articles are imbued with a part of our personal stories. They have an emotional currency that is unique and transcend any relationship we could enjoy with other recyclable commodities. While our clothing, shoes and accessories provide a particular utilitarian purpose, they define our fashion interests and other important milestones. When these articles no longer serve our needs, reuse is the best path for personal, economic and environmental reasons.
When we reuse our clothing, shoes and accessories, these items are handled and treated differently, as they are destined to be worn by someone else in the immediate future, and therefore carry on the lifecycle. This connection among people engaged in the Reuse Movement is paramount. This is a uniquely human event that gains in value and quality upon successful reuse.
New Level of Transparency
The Reuse Movement mandates a new level of transparency that shines a light on the connectedness implicit with what happens with the reuse of clothing, shoes and accessories. For too long, the clothing recycling industry, including both non-profit organizations and for-profit operators, has failed to complete the loop and tell the whole story. Often is the case that donation of clothing and related items are shrouded in mystery or anonymity, which creates confusion or worse, deception. By the same token, the apparel and footwear industry, including manufacturers and retailers, has only begun to explore and reveal the supply chain that supports the manufacturing of their products. While these examinations are important to ensure a meaningful degree of probity and clarity about the genesis of an article of clothing, these disclosures are voluntary and only tell the beginning of the story. With the Reuse Movement, we promote the full picture of where these articles go and for what purpose. In doing so, we share the personal connections that are made through reuse, the economic value, social good and environmental impact.
In the U.S., we have achieved a level of affluence and consumption that is unparalleled in the world. As such, Americans discard approximately 86 pounds of clothing and related items each year, which is the equivalent of 22 billion pounds annually. We only recycle 15 percent of that amount, which leaves about 10.5 million tons per year in landfills, giving clothing one of the poorest recycling rates of any reusable material. According to the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA), reuse-- second only to reduction -- enjoys the highest and best environmental and economic value. Economically, this movement is creating jobs around the world for the collection, handling and distribution of this valuable material. Many different types of business are engaged in the resale of clothing and related accessories, including those developing new recycling methods, logistics companies that manage the flow and distribution and retailers of all sizes and formats.
As such, reuse fuels economies both here and abroad. From micro-entrepreneurs to larger family-owned businesses in every corner of the world, more than 70 percent of the world depends on second-hand clothing and accessories. This also drives social good, as the Reuse Movement improves lives and supports people.
The environmental benefits are equally compelling. Recently, the EPA reported that the recycling of clothing, shoes and accessories has a more favorable impact to reducing carbon emissions than plastic, glass and yard-trimming recycling combined. Even at the low level of two million tons annually of clothing recycling, this is the equivalent of removing one million cars from America’s highways.
The Reuse Movement is simple, impactful and most importantly about people. With a new focus on conscious consumption, the Reuse Movement completes the loop and is an easy, personal and engaging opportunity to make a real difference to people, planet and profitability. We invite you to join us at www.communityrecycling.biz and continue the impact we are making.