On Thursday, October 18, an estimated 180 people from North Carolina, Hawaii and everywhere in between gathered for the opening day of the ReuseConex conference in Portland. Walking the talk by hosting the conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Lloyd Center, one of the greenest hotels on the West Coast, ReuseConex promised plentiful opportunities for people to learn about reuse industry challenges, opportunities best practices and new ideas. It did not disappoint. The day opened with a panel discussion featuring Duke Castle, Principal at the consulting firm The Castle Group; Beth Terry, blogger and author of Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too (Skyhorse Publishing); and David Allaway, Solid Waste Senior Policy Analyst with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Marty Metro with UsedCardboardBoxes.com served as the moderator for a far-ranging discussion that moved between Adam Smith’s theories of economics and Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption, to the serious problem of plastic in the ocean. All the panelists agreed on a couple things. Our current system of consumption is not working. It’s not making us happier, and it’s not sustainable over the long term. “Our economy is based on growing,” Castle said. “Seventy percent of our economy is based on consumption.” Which brings up a couple important questions: How do we keep growing on a planet with finite resources, and how do we do it without constantly throwing things away? Reuse brings good jobs into communities. Allaway pointed to a study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency demonstrating that reuse employs twice as many people as recycling in the state. Not only are these jobs good for people, but they are also good for the planet because they do not involve remanufacturing. Terry would like to see more emphasis on repairing items. Training people in technical skills such as repairing shoes, electronics and furniture would bring back an economic sector that has virtually disappeared in the U.S. (This theme will be echoed in day two’s keynote presentation by Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit.com). There was also discussion about how to make the non-green-minded consumer excited about reuse. Castle believes the solution does not lie in further education. Instead, he believes you have to give people an emotional experience that makes them feel as good about buying or creating with reused products as they do about recycling or buying new. Allaway points out that many economic theories assume consumers have all the information about products and make rational decisions. Neither of those things is really true. Individuals do not know everything there is to know about every product, and anyone who has spontaneously bought a shirt or a CD or a Snuggie knows that purchasing decisions are not always logical. The panel was followed up by two rounds of breakout sessions. In the morning, speakers addressed topics such as overcoming barriers to reuse and how research and policy affect reuse. The afternoon breakout covered the economics of reuse and building reuse communities on and off university campuses. Late afternoon is often a restless time at conferences, but it was impossible not to feel energized during the final session on strategic partnerships to reuse within the food industry. Laura Weiss with Go Box outlined her business, which provides nondisposable containers to Portland’s food carts. Weiss estimates that, in the last year, she has kept 10,000 food containers out of the local landfill with her popular program. She was followed by Albe Zakes of TerraCycle, who wowed the crowd with an enthusiastic rundown of TerraCycle’s programs to reuse and recycle everything from candy bar wrappers to disposable diapers. In the evening came the highly touted Rebel Craft Rumble, sponsored by local nonprofit SCRAP. The rowdy contest to crown Portland’s Craft Master featured four local artisans going head to head in an Iron Chef-style competition (but with glue guns and silk flowers instead of frying pans and fish). In the end, Drew “Hot Drew Gun” Anderson took home the top prize. If day two of ReuseConex is anything like day one, it promises a full day of learning, networking, cool craft ideas and perhaps a little irreverent fun thrown into the mix. To be sure, there will never be a dull moment. For more coverage of ReuseConex, see “Rebel Craft Rumble,’ More Coming to Portland This Week” and “ReuseConex Event Draws Best Practices from Around the Country.”
ReuseConex Day One: Replacing Consumption with Reuse
The opening day of the ReuseConex conference in Portland focused on changing the societal mindset about reuse.