The many joys of reuse shops

FRIENDLY GREETING:  The recyled robot welcomes visitors to the Nelson Reuse and Recycle Centre.
FRIENDLY GREETING: The recyled robot welcomes visitors to the Nelson Reuse and Recycle Centre.

Nelson Reuse & Recycle Centre has operated in Tahunanui since 1992. It is at the entry to the transfer station, and accepts and sells items that might otherwise go to landfill.

It is a social enterprise, owned by Nelson Environment Centre. Such centres are popular in New Zealand. But who benefits?

Ratepayers: No one likes waste, especially when an item is too good to trash, and even more so if you have to pay to dump it. To drop this off at no cost and know it will have a new life is good for the wallet and the conscience. And keeping it out of the waste stream will extend the life of landfill sites, a benefit to future ratepayers.

Anyone on a budget: Perhaps this heading includes us all. Goods at NRRC are affordable, with an average transaction of around $6. We have heard the centre called ‘Mitre 11', ‘my first port of call' and ‘my favourite shop' - even by customers who are not financially challenged. And every transaction means a happy customer, and one more item kept out of the waste stream.

Treasure hunters: Pre-loved goods are not just more affordable, they are often better quality and more durable than newly imported goods. And, for someone with a discerning eye, there can be a fascination and a real sense of discovery that puts the fun back into shopping.

Employees: Reuse shops tend to be large employers of skilled and unskilled workers, relative to their capital and other inputs. NRRC employs about 20 full-time and part-time workers, most of them at a fair ‘living wage', and pays almost $500,000 a year in wages.

Good causes: Nelson Environment Centre is a charitable organisation that generates most of its own funds. About 70 per cent of its income, before expenses, comes from NRRC sales. This has helped the Environment Centre provide quality environmental education in areas such as waste, clean energy, edible gardens and marine reserves, and has allowed it to provide support to other great causes such as the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary.

The economy: Wages, rent and other costs paid by NRRC help the local economy. It pays GST and PAYE, helping to reduce social costs. And, at least in a small way, it helps to reduce import and energy costs. Reuse of goods and materials means lower energy inputs and freight, compared to importing or recycling. Pre-loved purchases are an effective ‘buy local' experience.

The environment: NRRC keeps about 220 tonnes a year out of landfill - picture a Jumbo jet and about three double-decker buses. This saves resources and cuts waste. But there's more - certain waste in landfill sites produces greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change. NRRC's diversions of goods and materials mean that the organisation is not only "zero waste", but we believe it is "carbon neutral" as well.

Future generations: There are obvious benefits for the future from saving energy and raw materials and cutting pollution. But there are less tangible benefits too. The concepts that waste is a resource, that quality lasts and newer goods are not always better, that resources are finite, that there are practical, enjoyable ways to reduce our footprints - all of these are valuable lessons and help to create opportunities and build resilience for the future.

Throughout New Zealand, reuse centres such as ‘Wastebusters' in Wanaka, ‘Xtreme Waste' in Raglan, ‘Trash Palace' in Porirua, and ‘NRRC' in Nelson are creating win-win-win opportunities: providing real social, environmental and economic benefits.

Are they the best thing since sliced bread? Well, possibly, but there's some hot competition. We don't want to over-sell them. What we can promise is a retail experience to save you dollars, and to go some small way towards saving the planet. And we hope you'll have fun in the process. Bruce Gilkison is General Manager of the Nelson Environment Centre, which contributes 50 Shades of Green fortnightly.

The Nelson Mail