Topic 2 Strategies for reusing products

Individually, you can adopt many good practices, either at home or at work. However, it is also very important that companies or factories, adopt the same practices and even act as an example.

Take a moment to examine the following diagram that shows how the life of a product can be extended by different businesses using reusing, and remanufacturing, or how the product end-of-life can be reused with recycling.

In reusing/repairing, on a company’s level, a business reuses/repairs products end-of-life and then returns them as new to the client. For example, disassembling vehicles, repairing, and checking parts is a way to extend their life cycle, eliminating the need to consume energy or raw materials to manufacture new parts. However, keep in mind that these operations use energy, etc., that must be taken into account. Gas tanks, lights, dashboards, bumpers, and other plastic parts from automobiles may be separated from other components and, if they are not damaged, they can be used again.

In remanufacturing, as we saw before in this module, a product end-of-life is torn apart into its different components in a factory that will eventually provide us with a new qualitative product. The remanufacturing company buys end-of-life products from one company, then remanufactures them and eventually sells the new product to other companies. For example, cars would be separated into doors, mirrors, tyres, etc.. Then, the parts would be examined, repaired, and remanufactured into new cars. That means that remanufacturing keeps components of products and their materials in use for a longer period of time, and as from that, energy use and emissions to air and water can differ or avoided. So, it is fair to say that remanufacturing is a good alternative practice towards a circular economy. To better understand this process of remanufacturing, we invite you to watch a video.

What is remanufacturing?

Coventry University Research draws the answer!

In recycling, also on a business level, the end-of-life products are recycled according to their different materials, a method that basically results in material transformation. It differs from the two previous strategies as it does not provide extended time for the life of a product, but it does give the same or a new form to the material which then will be used for making products. Plastic bottles can be recycled and a new material for making clothes can be produced, while the aluminium cans can be recycled into new aluminium cans over and over again. We will come back to these examples in the next topic.

Now, let’s think on these 3 strategies, examining a simplified version of the “butterfly diagram” of Ellen MacArthur Foundation, made my Catherine Weetman. This diagram shows the three actors (groups) who can activate a circular flow of materials in the economy system and the four categories of strategies that can prevent in different scale the leakage of materials or products end-of-life into waste.

The three actors who can activate a circular flow of materials in the economy system are:

1.The original brand manufacturer who can control the reselling, sharing, or maintenance of a product.

2.The circular economy provider who uses reselling, repairing, recycling and even remanufacturing products and equipment made by others.

3.The user who can resell or share products that (s)he does not want / need anymore and do repairs.

The four categories of strategies can prevent in different scale the leakage of materials:

1.Reuse, Resell, Share: Examples can be buying and selling pre-owned and refurbished items (such as cars, houses, clothes, antiques, etc.), car and bike rental services, community tool libraries, etc. An individual can easily apply this, and also companies.

2.Maintain, Repair: In our daily life we use these strategies for cars and industrial machinery, but for other products, people would need a specialist to do the service as it becomes more complicated due to technology. Think on your mobile-phone for example in comparison with your toaster machine.

3.Refurbish, Remanufacture: These products can be a great option for customers who wish to have the high-quality brand, but can’t afford the cost of a new     product.  

4.Recycle: The difficulty of accessing and identifying materials can make it cost prohibitive. For example, bonded or glued materials can be impossible to separate. Only a smartphone can have 62 different elements or materials.

Reuse, resell and share should be the preferred circular strategy.  This inner cycle is generally the most efficient and effective option while it maintains the original product value. The last strategy to be used should be recycling. If all else fails, then a product can be recycled. The reason is that actions that are closer to the center of the circle give a more extended life to products in use with the least effort, energy and waste.