By Kenneth Atkinson, Gloucester County Improvement Authority, August 1996

Over the past few years, most HHW coordinators in New Jersey have seen the prices charged by private HHW vendors drop significantly. However, even with the decrease in prices, we need to constantly search for new methods that will help to make our programs as cost-effective and environmentally-sound as possible. One practice that is being implemented by a number of permanent facilities (and one-day collection events) is the establishment of a “reuse” component to augment an already existing HHW program. While reuse programs have not been widely utilized in New Jersey, their effectiveness in lowering program costs, promoting HHW awareness, and, to a certain extent, changing consumer behavior, has been documented in programs across the country.

“Reuse” is the second strategy in the waste management hierarchy, behind “reduction” and before “recycling.” In simple terms, a reuse program at an HHW facility or event segregates unopened or leftover products that have not been entirely used up and allows them to be offered to other users, usually at no charge. A reuse program can be as simple as a “swap” table set up at a collection event or as sophisticated as a specialized room or building at a fixed facility. Although HHW coordinators stress source reduction in their educational efforts, the fact remains that consumers often purchase products in quantities which they could never possibly use. Inevitably, a large portion of these leftover, usable items are delivered to HHW facilities and events. Rather than paying to have these materials disposed of with unusable HHW, many counties are offering reuse programs to redistribute the reusable materials to individuals or nonprofit groups.

There are a number of benefits that can be realized by establishing a reuse program. By utilizing items obtained through a reuse program, participants do not have to purchase new materials made from virgin products. A reuse program can also attract participants who normally would not take part in an HHW program. This could result in increased participation rates and increased public support for the program. Perhaps the most significant benefit realized from the establishment of a reuse program is the cost savings it can provide. Most programs that adopt a reuse element note substantial savings in their overall program costs. For instance, Santa Monica, CA, operates a reuse area at their permanent facility. They estimate that the reuse program has saved them more than $50,000, or 20%, of their total HHW program budget. Likewise, Chittendon County, VT, utilizes a 4’ x 7’ shed at their fixed facility for their reusable products. They estimate it provides an annual cost savings of $8,100, or 10%, of their total program budget. Swap tables set up at one-day events have a more difficult time tracking cost savings, but they still help to raise awareness about the ability to reuse certain products that would normally be discarded as HHW. In 1995 Morris County, NJ, established a reuse table at their regularly-held HHW disposal days. The swap table is always located in a highly visible area near the exit of the drop-off site. When exiting the site, and after disposing of unwanted items, participants are able to stop and peruse the unopened items which the vendor transfers from the consolidation area. At a recently-held Morris County HHW disposal day, a hardware store dropped off 13 cases of unopened pesticides which were eagerly taken by cost-conscious participants.

The most serious obstacle communities face when establishing a reuse program is the concern about liability. To answer this potential dilemma, most reuse programs require participants to sign a waiver form that releases the county or community from any problems that could result through the use of the products. Waiver forms usually state that the sponsoring agency cannot guarantee the quality of the material. Most also state that the customer accepts the product “as is” and releases the sponsor from all personal and property injury claims brought on by using the product. While a waiver form cannot eliminate the possibility of a liability suit, it does provide a defense against any claims that may surface brought on by negligent use of the products.

There are a number of other issues that need to be addressed prior to establishing a reuse program. These include identifying the products that will be offered for reuse, determining who will be allowed to receive the materials, determining staffing requirements, and developing an educational outreach for the program. These and other pertinent issues are addressed in detail in the guidance manual entitled, Establishing an Effective Reuse Program, prepared by The Waste Watch Center, Andover, MA. For information on receiving the manual, contact Dana Duxbury of the Waste Watch Center at (508) 470-3044.

By utilizing a reuse program, HHW coordinators have the ability to make their programs more cost-effective, increase participation and public awareness, and reduce the amount of materials that must be recycled or disposed of as hazardous waste. Through careful planning and coordination, reuse programs have the potential to further the message of proper HHW management.

Name: Rick Dimont
Affliation: Montgomery County, MD
Date: 9/16/2005

Please let me know more about your swap program. I am trying to give away just paint and I am having a hard time getting our legal office to go along with it even with a waiver. I would like to know: How long you’ve been doing a swap What you give away Any problems with people complaining What you waiver looks like (if any) Anything else you can provide me with. Thanks