Rachel Simon is studying environmental policy at Bristol University, and works at Resource Futures a Bristol based not-for-profit environmental consultancy business, which helps organisations work towards a circular economy in which resources are used and re-used efficiently and effectively.
Reuse activity in Bristol is diverse and inventive, and I’m constantly finding myself surprised by it. I’ve been so inspired by reuse in this city that I spent part of my Summer learning about new reuse projects in Europe. Here are four cities which I visited where reuse is thriving in different urban environments and in different forms.
Macken is a social enterprise in Växjö, Sweden which works with unemployed immigrants, and originally integrated reuse into its work and training programmes because of the way it connects and empowers people. It also happens to be located in Växjö, a town in Sweden which sells itself as Europe's 'greenest city.' Now Macken is planning to open a Reuse Village and Centre for the Circular Economy. The Reuse Village will co-locate reuse businesses on a site adjacent to the local recycling centre, creating a reuse shopping destination as well as facilitating the exchange of materials and skills between makers. The Centre for the Circular Economy will act as a sort of museum and education centre, presenting local and international reuse projects with collaboration from the local Linnaeus University (which runs a circular economy course), and fostering an atmosphere of learning and collaboration for the development of new circular economy services.
The site for the Reuse Village. It's not built yet!
Macken’s reuse activities are already extensive. They run a textile workshop where people with low level language get a chance to practice their Swedish and style beautiful clothing from material off-cuts; they run a ‘Tiny House’ construction project, a course in construction with reuse materials; a Bike Project much like the Bristol Bike Project but on a smaller scale; and 'Fall Guld' chutney-making from food ‘waste’.
A tiny house
Macken is looking to set up a pan-European Textile Upcycling Association – get in touch if you would like to be involved!
The textile workshop
Bristol’s successor to European Green Capital, Ljubljana, has set itself a Zero Waste target and Snaga, its publically owned municipal waste company, has run some incredible great reuse campaigns. The Centre Ponovne Uporabe (CPU) in Ljubljana (check out its Facebook page) is run by a social enterprise which employs people at disadvantage in the labour market. The CPU works in partnership with Snaga to collect materials onsite at recycling centres for reuse. Whilst originally its centre attracted primarily people on low incomes Ljubljana is seeing more and more people of all incomes interested in reuse.
The Centre Ponovne Uporabe textiles and interiors
The projects have evolved to tackle negative attitudes from some consumers around reuse and shopping ‘second-hand’. The CPU works to counteract these attitudes by running upcycling workshops with school children, and classes for people to repair and work with reuse materials to change understanding of their value. It has also created stylish branding and interiors for its stores, with a chic reuse aesthetic, which have made the reuse centre in the capital a popular destination. The social enterprise has developed a reuse app which you can download from Google Play or the Apple Store, with an English language function.
A reuse project in Berlin led by their municipal waste company BSR brings together a neighbourhood sustainability network the Mierendorff-Insel Initiative, the Berlin Technical University, and a digital communications company to collaborate on a data driven method for ordering materials and items for reuse. As materials and products come through the recycling centre, they will be logged for entry onto an online portal. The service will be targeted at designers and artists, to produce reuse goods for sale online as well as in a reuse café. Reuse is big in Berlin. Berlin’s waste management company BSR already encourages reuse through a peer to peer online exchange platform (users cannot sell or buy items but offer goods or favours in return). While in the city I visited Berlin’s popular flee markets where there’s a corner for everything you could imagine, as well as a chic and stylish commercial and retail reuse scene which have come together to build an upcycling roadmap of the city.
At the end of my trips I met with RREUSE, a pan-European trade association representing social enterprises active in re-use, repair and recycling. They promote regulations that support reuse organisations to the EU and national governments, and they helped me to understand why reuse is stronger in some product areas than others. While textiles are relatively straight forward to re-purpose and customise – textiles feature prominently in Macken and in the Ljubljana Reuse Centre which tailors, repairs and upcycles materials to create stylish products – electricals in particular can be hugely complex and costly to repair. A priority area for Rreuse is easy product repair; they advocate that producers make manuals public, keep parts on the market, and be pressurised to eco-design future products. Rreuse understands that the European legislative and regulatory framework prioritises recycling and so is lobbying for the introduction of targets for preparation for reuse.