Incorporating the Simple Living Review, the Preparedness & Self-Reliance Review, as well as the Outdoor & Survival Review

Is reuse good for the economy?

by Michael Smith

The Financial Times has started using the word "austerity" in many of its headlines – and charity shops, the face of the second hand market in Britain, are experiencing a buying boom.
On the other hand a fair – though not so fair in other terms – of retailers, the purveyors of brand new things, have gone bankrupt, in liquidation or receivership, such as Woolworth, MFI and some other well known names.

Does this mean we are saturated with stuff?

The answer to this could be a probably maybe. But the truth, more than likely, is that people, that is all of us, are feeling the squeeze as with the recession and the prices for fuel and everything going up and up.

Do we still need to keep on spending on new things to keep the economy moving?

While the economic whizkids, who got us into this mess in the first place or who simply were so blind that they could not see it coming, and especially the powers that be, tell us to go and shop till we drop, basically, to help those ailing capitalist economies of ours, the truth is that we cannot do so. First off the environment must be considered for if we don't it does not matter what we do; we may no longer have a habitable planet. Secondly there is no money there and no credit to be had – not that one should work on the credit thing anyway – so how do the powers that be think that people can go out and spend, spend, spend.

Is designed obsolescence soon to be obsolete? Or should we keep on refreshing our material possessions to keep the economy moving?

In other words, the question is, "Is reuse good for the economy?"

I know that the government of this country – and, so it wold appear, also of other countries – is trying to create stimulus for us to keep on spending, and spending and spending; spending our way out of the recession, so they say. Personally I do not think that that will work.

Alternatively, maybe, just maybe, the economy is so far up the creek that we should consider building an alternative one and slowly migrate over to it.

There is no way, in my opinion, but then again I am no economist, that we can administer CPR to this troubled economy by spending as much as possible. It will not work and, well, do we have the money to do so, and, do we really need more stuff (only to throw other stuff into the garbage then).

Paul Smith of the Furniture Reuse Network (FRN) certainly advocates that reuse is a good thing but you might argue his focus is short-term and on real people rather than on the long-term health of the more abstract economy?

To some degree, methinks, the reason that the economy is in the dire straights that it is in because people and the planet were taken out of the equation by the the bankers and financiers and the big capitalists and especially the multi-nationals. As soon as you do that, that is to say to remove the people and the planet out of the equation as far as economy, and not just the economy, is concerned you head for severe trouble and so we did. Greed was all that fueled the banks and all that seems to have fueled industry and now we reap the whirlwind. But it is the little man an d the environment that suffers and not the fat cats. While we, the taxpayers, have to bail out the banks and certain sectors of industry, those who got everyone into that mess still award themselves fat multi-million pound bonuses and such payments. But I digressed somewhat.

Given that the governments of the world are doing everything they can to get spending going again it would seem that the powers that be certainly do not want reuse as a general practice, despite their “reduce, reuse, recycle” message about waste management, to take place. They want new cars, new houses, new washing machines, plasma screen TVs, MS Vista 09 and every other material (and immaterial thing) that generates jobs to start moving again. I mean, how many more sofas, TVs, etc. do we need. No, your old PC is not obsolete as yet, regardless of what the folks in Redmond try telling you. All you need is an operating system that works with less resources, e.g. lower processor speed, such as Linux.

There is no doubt in my mind that the economy is shrinking – and for everything that is reused that is one less thing that is made from scratch – environment 1 - economy nil. The same applies for re-purposing. But, as said, the powers that be do not seem to want this to happen, in all honesty, despite their pratter.

Artificially encouraging spending with the policy and print runs at the mint is only going to produce artificial demand – which in turn, produces artificial economy. It is the same as the alcoholic having a drink to get rid of the jitters - the junkie shooting up to avoid the come down. The example of Zimbabwe should also be obvious enough.

Grow your own, repair before replace, live lightly. Using and producing less is a global objective, or at least so it should be.

While it might be painful, painful for all of us, I do think that we have to go through this and kick the habit of waste and spend, spend, spend. I say reuse, don't refuse!

To some this may appear to be a stark choice between two paths, but is it really. We all know, at least those of us with some common sense, that business as usual will not be solving the problems we face. On the other hand, massive economic shifts in short periods of time seem to cause significant unrest and violence, do they not?

Then again, the choices here may not be as stark as some may think. Re-use often needs testing,such as in the case of electrical goods, and sometimes repair. These are key skills that allow re-use organizations to train and employ people. There is also a danger that the economic interest are short term. We live on a finite piece of rock with finite resources the longer we can keep items and resources in circulation the longer we will be able to have an economy at all. It is not a choice between the environment and the economy but a choice between short and long term thinking and, most importantly, survival.

Thus, in a reuse economy there are actually just as many jobs and transactions – just different skills and tills. An important thing wold be if we could but remember en mass some of the skills we have lost and then, maybe, get around to relearning some of those – all important, in my view anyway – skills and trades.

I would also like to add that I think that it would take us quite a while to use up what there is to reuse at the present time. It would be healthy to reuse as long as possible until we have thought up a way to a durable economy. It would also give the overexploited countries a chance to recenter themselves on their own needs and their own resources without having to hope that they can carry on pampering our so-called 'needs'. It is our own responsibility to live on what we have around us. We also have plenty of great skills and can learn some more too.

Being, as I said before, from a rather large Gypsy family, the reuse issue has always been part of us and that not just because we were a large family. In fact the Gypsy people recycled before the word was even invented. We made things from virtually nothing to sell at fairs, markets and door-to-door, and we reworked “trash” into goods people wanted to buy. Another kind of economy.

© M Smith (Veshengro) February 2009

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