September 29th, 2018 BY Douglas Lober

The Real Definition of “Reusable” and Why It Matters to Your Business

The word “reusable” is so rampant in today’s public consciousness that it’s hard to believe there ever existed a time when it did not also exist.

Yet there was such a time, in the nebulous Middle Ages that preceded the 14th century. Then, in the late 1300s, the Old French word “usable” sprung up (pronounced you-sob-luh) to mean “available” or “in use.” This in turn stemmed from the verb “user” (you-say), which predictably enough means “to use.”

From here, it slowly took English form, but did not find its place in our everyday lexicon until around 1840, explains the Online Etymology Dictionary. At that time, it was reformed from a combination or “use” and “able,” two words whose definitions are today self-explanatory. (1)

This transmuted much more quickly into that zeitgeist-y word we all know and love to sling about: reusable. By 1905, with the addition of “re” meaning “back, again,” this word was in widespread use. (2) Thus did it take it current form: capable of being used again or repeatedly.

Yet, do we really understand what it means to be “reusable”? And if not, how should we change our mindset about this ecologically crucial principle?

Today, we’re talking about just that.

Understanding Reusable Starts with Understanding Disposable

The etymology of reusable is not enough to tease out the subtleties of this word’s meaning, nor does it fully illuminate today’s applications. Take a deep breath, because we’re going into the weeds.

First, we need to rethink our idea of disposable. We submit that an item doesn’t have to carry that label intentionally in order for it, at an essential level, to meet the definition of single-use or very few uses. Think cheap pens that last a week, flimsy frisbees that crack on the first toss or notepads that wilt into nothingness at the slightest hint of moisture. Non-disposable, or reusable, items are meant to outlast a few weeks and withstand a little damage. So these don’t count.

There is also the argument that planned obsolescence intends for many so-called non-disposable items to last only a short amount of time, including clothing, shoes and housewares. (3) This refers to items that are made to go out of style, stop working shortly after purchase or require ongoing replacement parts/upgrades. But that’s not exactly disposable either.

To simplify the issue, “disposable” connotes an intention to throw an object away – say, a plastic fork or paper plate, which are created with the express purpose of going into the trash after use. (At best, they’re destined for the compost.) Even sturdier items, like bags, often meet the garbage pail after a use or two.

That stands in stark contrast to reusable.

So What Is “Reusable”?

To meet the definition of “reusable,” it’s not enough simply to use an item again and again. That describes plenty of objects in our lives, after all. Cutting boards, clothing, computers. None of these items is designed for single-use. Because of that, we refer to them differently. We don’t call computers and shirts “reusable” for the very reason that we expect them to last use after use; it’s part of the deal.

Inherent in the definition of “reusable” is opposition to “disposable.” In our context, then, a handy definition of reusable is something along the lines of “an item that replaces a disposable analogue.”

Examples of Reuse

This idea is critical to reuse in today’s world. Again, though, we must tease out the meaning by differentiating it from recyclable. According to Green Plus, “Reuse is different from recycling, although people often confuse the two. Recycling, while a good practice, uses a lot of energy and requires an industrial change to a product. This usually results in a new product of lesser quality.” (4)

Reuse, on the other hand, simply means a person can pick an item back up and use it again and again. Again keeping in mind the definition of “reusable” as standing in opposition to “disposable,” examples include:

  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Glass water bottles
  • Reusable packing materials
  • Branded bags

What do each of these items have in common? That their disposable counterparts are commonly thrown away when their lives are up, usually a matter of days or weeks. These, on the other hand, work again and again – without requiring the resource-intensive recycling process to make them work again.

So finally, what does that mean for your marketing budget?

Working “Reusable” Into Marketing Campaigns

Too often, marketing is a shortsighted endeavor geared toward driving people to the door and right on in, no matter the cost. They use paper flyers, paper and plastic bags, single-use packing materials and more. Even the so-called “reusable” items consist of chintzy trade show materials, crummy pens that break immediately, keychains whose flashlights stop working after a day or two, erasers that don’t erase, and so much more.

This go, go, go mentality might prove effective for business growth (although frankly, it often isn’t), but it’s certainly not good for the environment. We need a different way.

Therefore, we put forth one last definition of “reusable,” which is that an item that purports to withstand the test of time must actually do so. If a pen is supposed to go home with a client or prospect, it must keep working when sitting in their pen cup. If a bottle opener keychain is to be reusable, then it can’t strip at the first sign of a beer bottle. A glass must hold up to multiple washings, and ideally to dishwashers – otherwise, how is it better than nothing?

Answer: It’s not. It merely harms the environment more, and with it, your brand. (5) If you want to keep that brand safe and sound, you need promotional items that respect Mother Nature, give your prospects great value over time, and maintain the value of your marketing dollar by lasting – delivering impressions again and again.

Sound pretty good? We thought so. Please feel free to reach out at any time and get the help you need. The team here at Reusable Promos is ready and waiting for your call.