At our July Coffee and Climate session, Dr. Cindy Isenhour of the University of Maine described New England as the attic of the United States, and Maine “the attic of that attic.” This was in reference to our region’s engrained tradition of reuse, full of antique shops, thrift stores, and garage sales.

Maine’s reuse economy is vibrant, with ample opportunity to participate. So let’s tap into it. Today, we are talking about the many meanings of reuse and how single-use plastic reduction connects to transitioning to a reuse economy.

Reuse

Reuse and single-use are clearly antonyms. We swap our plastic baggies for silicone, buy bamboo cutlery and canvas totes. This process removes the need for single-use items in our daily lives by being prepared with multi-use products we’ve invested in. However, the concept of reuse expands far beyond this. Reuse is also how we acquire and consume items much larger than convenient items such as cups or cutlery.

Shifting to a reuse economy

A reuse economy can be a multitude of things: a sale (yard sale, Craigslist), a gift, a swap, a found object at the swap shop. It is an object being used for its original purpose and a transfer of ownership. Maine is no stranger to this.

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If you are driving along coastal Route 1, you pass countless antique stores. If you are wandering around neighborhoods, you peruse a box of items in a front yard labeled “free” and take home an item you’ve been meaning to buy. If you are on Facebook, you may join a Buy Nothing page and post items no longer of value to you but full of value for the soon-to-be next owner. This is the reuse economy.

Production and consumption is wasteful and energy intensive. By purchasing reusable products, we can reduce the overall number of products produced and therefore reduce unnecessary waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Connecting back to Plastic Free July

How does Maine’s reuse economy connect back to single-use plastic reduction, and our commitment to reducing plastics this July? When you buy products new, more often than not they are covered in plastic packaging. This packaging can be anything from plastic film swaddling a board game to the plastic component on your new shirt’s price tag.

Relying on reuse strategies such as buying secondhand or swapping will naturally have a lot less plastic. In fact, reusing just 10 percent will cut the plastic waste in the ocean nearly in half.

This July, pay attention to how you participate in the reuse economy and how it relates to your single-use plastic consumption. Have you borrowed from a neighbor instead of buying new? Bought an item from a thrift store or yard sale? Reusing as opposed to buying new helps transition away from a single-use mindset and toward a reuse, and therefore circular, economy.

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One week to go

Next week is our final week of Plastic Free July. We will be seeking feedback from participants about your experience throughout July. Reach out to Mia at [email protected] if you have any questions or have participated in Plastic Free July but have not been receiving emails.

Our Sustainable City is a recurring column in the Sentry intended to provide residents with news and information about sustainability initiatives in South Portland. Follow the Sustainability Office on Instagram and Facebook @soposustainability.

Mia Ambroiggio is a Greater Portland Council of Governments Resilience Corps Fellow serving in the Sustainability Office. She can be reached at [email protected]

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