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Secondhand Goods Save Carbon

One recycling business in Canberra offsets half of Canberra's waste emissions

I recently conducted a carbon audit for a Canberra recycling business I work with, The Green Shed. I knew that secondhand goods and recycling save carbon, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how much. Read on to find out how the circular economy fights climate change.

Secondhand Goods Save CO2e

Some waste sent to landfill breaks down and releases carbon dioxide and equivalent emissions (CO2e), primarily methane. Metal, plastic, bricks and tiles are generally inert but wood, textiles and paper emit CO2e from landfill. Salvaging these instead avoids direct landfill emissions.

In addition, recycled and secondhand goods save embedded CO2e. This is because new goods require more energy to mine or harvest, manufacture, transport and sell. This makes the embodied energy and embedded CO2e higher for new goods than for secondhand and recycled goods. When people buy secondhand instead, they make a big CO2e saving.

How Much Material Does The Green Shed Salvage?

The Green Shed is a Canberra-based network of recycling businesses operating at four physical premises, via an online store and through contract collection models. Its primary operation is salvaging and selling used goods that would otherwise be sent to landfill. The Green Shed specialises in problem waste streams like furniture, clothing, household bric-a-brac, building and renovation waste, sports gear and electronic appliances.

Since its launch in 2011, The Green Shed has salvaged 58,000 tonnes of material, which is around 7,250 tonnes each year. The Green Shed asked me to conduct a carbon audit showing the CO2e savings resulting from their trade in secondhand goods.

How Much CO2e Does The Green Shed Save?

The Green Shed's trade in used goods saves around 37,266 tonnes of CO2e per year.

This breaks down as follows.

  • 4,096 tonnes of CO2e from avoided landfill emissions per year; and
  • 33,170 tonnes of CO2e from avoided embedded emissions per year.

Fast fashion and clothes are responsible for a large proportion of Australia's emissions. The Green Shed's trade in clothing and textiles alone saves 26,052 tonnes of CO2e each year.

Piles of old clothes await resale and recycling at The Green Shed in Canberra

Australians discard a lot of clothing. Fortunately, some is salvaged by op shops and recyclers.

Green Shed Savings Offset Half of Total ACT Waste Emissions

According to the ACT Greenhouse Gas Inventory for 2017-18 (Table 3), the ACT emitted 72,700 tonnes of CO2e from waste. This means that Green Shed carbon savings offset more than half of total ACT emissions from waste each year.

The Green Shed is handling high volumes, particularly for carbon-intense textiles, which makes their carbon savings high. But I suspect many reuse and recycling operations make a significant carbon saving. Operations like this are clearly essential for any Zero Net Emissions goal.

Calculations, notes and and data sources are in the 'Notes' section.