Reusing Materials

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What It Is

Reuse is different from recycling, although people often confuse the two. Recycling, while a good practice, uses a lot of energy and requires an industrial change to a product. This usually results in a new product of lesser quality.

Reusing a product, however, does not require major manufacturing manipulation. A reused object is simply put back to work, whether for its original purpose or not.

Examples of reusing materials include

    • Donating old, working computers to a school
    • Allowing customers to return used packaging (e.g., boxes, packing peanuts, bubble wrap), so that the business can use it again
    • Furnishing an office with reclaimed materials instead of purchasing new chairs, tables, etc.


Why It Matters

Reusing resources can help a business save money while decreasing its ecological footprint. It increases the lifespan of investments and spares a business the cost of buying new products.

Reuse can also impact the community. Businesses can donate old materials and products to schools, creative art centers, or any number of reuse organizations. This benefits the community and avoids wasting good materials.


Getting Started

Ask yourself the following questions when throwing something away at work:

    • Can we use this somewhere else in our organization?
    • Could someone outside the organization use this?



Can we use this somewhere else?

Business owners and employees may be surprised by what ‘trash’ they can repurpose to help the firm. If you can think of a way to reuse an object (or part of it), keep it!

For example, instead of tossing used paper, consider shredding it and using it for packing material. Or set aside a bin for scrap paper, so employees can reuse the sheets for one-off printing or note taking.

Before tossing office furniture and supplies, think about using them in different rooms. An old filing cabinet doesn’t have to stay in your office. You can just as easily use it to store snacks in the break room. You can turn an old crate into a new stepping stool.  Try thinking outside the box, you may be surprised what you come up with.

To help get your wheels turning, check out this post on, which talks about updating and reusing furniture.


Can someone else use this?

If you can’t reuse an object within your business, consider if someone else could use it. Perhaps you could donate your old computers to an underfunded school in your area. If someone else could use your items, don’t throw them away.

If you can’t think of any specific organizations that could use your materials, post them on a website like Freecycle. Freecycle connects people who are donating supplies with people who need them. When getting rid of electronics, try “e-cycling,” or donating your electronics for reuse. Visit the EPA website for more information on e-cycling.


Going Further

    • Conduct a waste audit.
    • Acquire new materials through reuse networks.
    • Establish reuse relationships with organizations in your community.
    • Adopt a culture of reuse within your business.



Conduct a waste audit.

Conduct a waste audit, so you can see what items your business discards. This can help you figure out how (or who) can reuse these materials. Click here to learn how to conduct a waste audit.


Use reuse networks.

Instead of buying products new, check out Freecycle, Craigslist, or a nearby thrift store. You can also look up reuse centers near you on ReDo.


Establish reuse relationships.

Make an effort to forge ongoing reuse partnerships. Reach out to organizations in your community that may need and appreciate donations on a regular basis. Conversely, if you think you can reuse another organization’s goods, reach out to them for donations.


Adopt a reuse culture.

Encourage employee involvement and support of reuse. Consider including reuse in your code of ethics or posting signs around the office to promote reuse in the workplace. For help with making and finding signs, check out the Green Plus How To Guide article, Office Signage.

Finally, try to make purchasing decisions with reuse in mind. Ask yourself “Will we be able to reuse this product after we are done with it?”


Case Studies

Riley Life

Riley Life, a Green Plus Certified warehousing and order fulfillment business in Durham, NC, reuses all the incoming cardboard boxes it receives. This saves the business money and increases the lifespan of its packing material. Click here to learn more about Riley Life.

Taylor Companies

Another Green Plus Certified business, Taylor Companies, a furniture manufacturer, used to throw away its leather scraps and sawdust, until it found businesses that wanted these materials. Now a Canadian purse producer uses the leather scraps for its products and local horse farmers pick up the sawdust for bedding stables. This saves Taylor Companies $10,000 every year. Read more on this story here.

More Success Stories

The EPA’s WasteWise website highlights businesses that successfully incorporate reuse into their waste reduction plans. Visit this link for more information.


Resources for More Information



Reusing office supplies, furniture, and products can help your business save money, build partnerships, and reduce its ecological footprint.


Glossary of Related Terms

Reuse: Finding new uses for items instead of tossing them in the trash.

WasteWise: An EPA partnership program, which allows organizations to share reuse strategies and eliminate solid waste.

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