Product Reuse is the exchange of secondhand or surplus products between individuals and/or organizations. This exchange is often performed by social service agencies looking to distribute goods to their clients or to raise funds for their operations. Beyond social impacts, tangible outcomes include reduction in the quantity of solid wastes needing permanent disposal (landfilling or incineration), potential savings in avoiding disposal and acquisition of equivalent new products, and creation of jobs. Additional and often overlooked benefits, attributed to avoiding production of an equivalent new product, include lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and resource conservation (raw materials and elements of production) including energy and water, all contributing favorably to the sustainability in the ecosystem where product reuse takes place.
The Materials Exchange Development Program (MEDP), recently renamed The New York City Center for Materials Reuse (NYC CMR), was established in 2004 with funding from the Bureau of Waste Prevention Reuse and Recycling (BWPRR) of the Department of Sanitation of New York City (DSNY), and operates out of the Grove School of Engineering at City College of New York. MEDP, through input from not-for-profit member reuse organizations, identifies and explores issues of common interest to the product reuse sector in New York City and provides support and solutions to improve the effectiveness of their operations. One major initiative of NYC CMR is to evaluate the environmental, economic and social impact of product reuse, i.e. sustainability of life, in New York City.
In order to do this, NYC CMR is working in close collaboration with member organizations, including a review of their tracking systems, which range from state-of-the-art commercial software to manual record-keeping. The Data Management Project (DMP) of NYC CMR works with each organization to analyze its activity data and extract information on the products diverted, such as name, type, quantity, attributes, weight, volume. Each product is then classified using an international standard classification system. When such information is unavailable, field characterization studies (FCS) are performed to develop it. In the initial phase of the project, the products are then standardized further and run through an EPA-developed modeling system to compute energy savings and GHG emission savings. In addition, the DMP is looking at other models to calculate economic and social impacts of product reuse (as will be discussed in the main article). The ultimate goal of the DMP is to develop and implement a unified approach in describing the benefits of product reuse in New York City.
The activities of New York City retail stores owned and operated by Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey Inc. have been part of the DMP. Preliminary investigation of data tracking in the stores revealed that implementation of FCS will provide the necessary basic information on weight and material composition of products sold in Goodwill retail stores, all necessary information to estimate environmental benefits from the sales.
The focus of the FCS is on transacted products, and ideally all products sold at a retail store would be examined during the checkout process. Visits to several Goodwill retail stores revealed that this method was not easily applicable during operating hours due to heavy activity. Instead, it was decided to sample products directly from the store inventory, according to the sub-categories used by Goodwill to classify and organize the products in retail stores.
Goodwill stores in the New York City area vary in size and inventory, ranging from a single story to three. The sampling protocol consisted of collecting several sample products belonging to a product sub-category and weighing them at a weighing station set up by the DMP, while also recording their volume in order to calculate product density. Retail stores concentrating their operation on one floor are more suitable for implementing the FCS but have fewer products than multi-floor stores, thus affecting sample sizes.
The first store to be studied was Manhattan's 23rd Street retail store. During three days, 1,275 products (1,547 lbs) were weighed and examined for material composition. Clothing items represented over half of the total weight, while cotton, wool and polyester accounted for half of the textiles.
A second study was performed at the East Harlem retail store, also in Manhattan, in January of 2013 where 1,264 products (3,412 lbs) were weighed. Wood furniture represented just above 50%, with clothing items 20% of the total weight sampled. Cotton, wool and polyester accounted for 75% of the textiles in clothing. The fact that the East Harlem Store carries inventory of furniture had a significant influence on the product and material distribution. If furniture items are eliminated from the samples, clothing accounts for 50% of the sampled weight.
The material distribution showed a slight difference between seasons. The summer distribution was 40% cotton, 22% wool and 21% polyester, while in the winter the distribution was 31% cotton, 28% polyester and 16% of wool; the difference may be attributed to donations of winter clothes in the summer months.
Using the information from the FCS and the Waste Reduction Model of the USEPA, it was estimated that the activities of the Goodwill retail stores in the New York City area have a favorable impact on the environment by reducing GHG emissions by 4,696 metric tons of CO2 and by generating energy savings of 75,982 BTUs, annually. This is equivalent to annual GHG emissions from 978 passenger vehicles, or CO2 emissions from electricity use of 703 homes for one year**.**
FCS will continue in Goodwill retail stores in the New York City area in order to explore seasonal trends in greater detail.
This article was co-written by NYC CMR's Lorena Fortuna and Benjamin B. Rose, and David Hirschler**Deputy Director of the Pollution Prevention Unit, Bureau of Waste Prevention Reuse and Recycling - NYC Department of Sanitation