Notes from the Reuse Movement

Of the three environmentalist R's, I've always seen Reuse as a quiet little brother to the slightly over-glorified Recycle and the get-tough Reduce. Lately, though, it seems like the littlest R is getting all growed up.

Reusing building and remodeling materials has become a sizable business, with tax incentives prodding constructors and deconsturctors alike with reason to repurpose those old solid-core doors and clay roofing tiles rather than chuck them landfill-ward. And it's not just earth-shippers and hippies on the reusable tip. The Singing Saw is a lumberyard outside of Boulder, Colo., that sells wood reclaimed from farmhouses and barns back East for many pretty pennies. 

At the other end of the spectrum is a little phenomenon called Freecycle, a kind of online re-gifting coordinator. You list unwanted doodads on your local Freecycle site; someone with a dire need for doodads takes it off your hands, no money exchanged. You need gewgaws? Post an ad asking for some and, usually, ye shall receive. 

What got me thinking of all this is a remarkable profile in today's New York Times about a Filipina woman who scavenges trash in Manila for a living. Talk about reuse: Teresa Janoras collects rotting food that gets sold to pig farmers, work for which she is paid a $3 daily wage. But, Janoras also collects packaging ribbons that others have thrown away and turns them into woven bags that she sells, and the steps to her house look — from the picture — to be repurposed tires.

One of the more surreal tidbits from the story: former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos, she of the packrat-like shoe fetish, makes jewelry out of discard plastic. Something tells me she doesn't dig for it herself.


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