We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Gregson, N., Crang, M., Laws, J., Fleetwood, T. & Holmes, H. Moving up the waste hierarchy: car boot sales, reuse exchange and the challenges of consumer culture to waste prevention. Resources, Conservation and Recycling. 2013;77:97-107.

Author(s) from Durham


Moving up the waste hierarchy is a key priority for UK waste policy. Waste prevention requires policy interventions to promote reuse. The term ‘reuse exchange’ has been adopted by UK policy makers to describe a variety of second-hand trading outlets including car boot sales, charity shops and online exchange sites. As waste policy is based on tonnage diverted from disposal (or landfill), policy interventions to promote reuse exchange will be based on the weight of goods estimated to be flowing through these sites. This paper uses a combination of field survey data and scale-up estimation to quantify and characterise the weight of goods exchanged at car boot sales in England in 2012. This is estimated at 50–60 000 tonnes per annum. The paper emphasises that movement up the waste hierarchy brings waste policy into closer contact with household consumption practices. It draws on qualitative research to show that, for participants, car boot sales are not associated with waste prevention. Instead, car boot sales rely on stocks of surplus household goods and exemplify the culture of thrift, which enables more, not less, consumption. The paper shows the collision between the social values that inform thrift and the environmental values that underpin reuse; and it argues that the policy goal of enhanced recovery for reuse might best be achieved by working with consumer culture. Two ways of achieving this are suggested: interventions that make it easier for consumers to do the right thing, through promoting opportunities for the circulation of stocks of surplus goods, for example, through increasing the frequency of car boot sales; and interventions which recognise that car boot sales also generate waste, which could be recovered for reuse.

Department of Geography