Innovative uses for unwanted items

Karen Cannard
Karen Cannard

As a trustee of Reuseful UK, a national charity based in March, it is always a privilege to visit members around the country – i.e. ScrapStores, the UK’s treasure troves that help turn surplus materials into art and craft heaven.

If you work in manufacturing or retail, it might be hard to imagine that your end-of-line materials, packaging or display items can be put to good use, especially if your business processes are geared towards disposal, recycling or returning materials to company HQ.

However, local ScrapStores help companies to think differently, liaising with businesses in their area to collect surplus unwanted materials – which would otherwise be binned – to be repurposed by the local educational and arts and craft communities.

And I am always amazed at the variety of materials that are made available – from shop mannequins to oversized Christmas baubles recovered from High Street retailers to cable reels, tubs and cardboard tubes from manufacturers.

The more unusual the better. In a recent visit to a ScrapStore in Leeds, I was mesmerised by the rolls of colourful shiny film that looked like it was once destined for boxes of chocolates. But it was a quirkier material that grabbed most of my attention – rolls and rolls of mysterious red and green felt with circular holes – apparently a by-product of the piano manufacturing industry. I love that there are creative geniuses out there who will find an innovative use for such a product.

It makes me wonder too what useful treasures lie behind the doors of our local manufacturers that could be given a new lease of life by our own local artists?

Reuse is often the forgotten cousin of recycling but in the Waste Hierarchy it should always be given higher priority, with opportunities to deliver better environmental, financial and social outcomes. Reuse also brings with it many innovative ideas.

Take Sweden for instance. Another concept that has been on my radar lately is the shopping mall situated 75 miles west of Stockholm – ReTuna – which has been established specifically for stores that sell upcycled or repurposed products. If you’re a Facebook user, you may have already seen it as news about this mall has gone viral.

It has space for people to drop off their unwanted belongings, including old furniture and clothing, which are then redistributed to stores or upcycled for resale. Shoppers are also encouraged to learn how to fix their own belongings through regular DIY sessions and there are also tool-sharing services for all those jobs you might want to do at home.

In partnership with the local municipal council, third sector organisations and the business sector, the ReTuna mall is deemed to be the first of its kind. And with skilled designers and craftspeople on hand, the images coming out of the mall offer a sense of style.

Reuse, including refurbishment and repair, continues to be the most creative area of waste reduction and it’s great to see more attention being thrust its way in mainstream media.

For instance, BBC 1’s Money for Nothing, fronted by entrepreneur Sarah Moore, shines a spotlight on items rescued from being dumped that are then transformed into bespoke objects with a greater value. And BBC 2 has delivered another antidote to our throwaway culture with The Repair Shop, where people take along broken artefacts to be fixed by skilled professionals.

I love that these concepts are continually entering our culture, not necessarily new ideas – more so reusing old ideas, but nevertheless presenting them in a new exciting way.

In a world where we need to use fewer resources, this is one area where I can gladly shout, ‘Please Sir, can I have some more.’