The 3 R's

Located within the bustling Addison Road Community Centre, Marrickville, lies Australia’s largest creative reuse centre…

Not-for-profit community co-operative, Reverse Garbage, was established in 1974 by a group of educators determined to help the environment by diverting industrial discards from landfill and reusing materials in their classrooms. As their slogan states, they are experts in reuse.

But what exactly is ‘reuse’ and ‘creative reuse,’ and how are these different to ‘recycling’?

You may have heard of the ‘three R’s’ when discussing sustainability: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

At the top of the hierarchy is ‘reduce.’ This means to consume less. To reduce our impact on the environment it’s important to consider if we really need to purchase new items. Can we reduce our wastage by considering other ways to utilise the things we already have?

This brings us to ‘reuse,’ the second in the hierarchy of sustainability. We can prolong the life of an item by reusing it in the way it was originally intended. For example, buying second hand clothing or a second hand car. This maximises the utility of the item and makes a significant difference to our environment as we are not manufacturing a new product, we’re using what we already have.

Just as important (and often the most interesting and fun!) is ‘creative reuse,’ where we think outside the square to use or alter an item for a different purpose, like making coffee tables out of wooden shipping pallets, or ottomans out of street banners and milk crates.

Reuse is often confused with recycling but it is actually quite different. Reuse is about prolonging the use of an item, whereas recycling is reprocessing an item into new raw materials for manufacture. Recycling requires additional energy to break down, wash and sort materials, as well as energy to remanufacture and transport them to and from recycling centres. Not to mention the additional waste derived from those properties which can’t be recycled.

This is what makes ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’ so important; not only to save valuable resources from landfill but preserve the embodied energy that was originally used to manufacture an item.

Reverse Garbage saves approximately 50 Olympic swimming pools worth of resources each year, from vinyl records to furniture, fabrics, DIY materials, stage props and gardening tools, making them available for reuse at discounted prices.

In addition, they conduct tours and fun educational workshops for children as young as four, through to high school school students and seniors. ‘Using what we already have’ is a notion that many of our senior citizens are especially familiar with having lived through global financial hardship and war, and these workshops are very much a shared knowledge experience where both participants and staff share different methods of reusing everyday materials to help pave the way for a better future.

To donate your unwanted goods to Reverse Garbage for reuse, or for more information visit

Words: Mark Bond, Reverse Garbage.

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