In a world that is still learning how to make recycling a lifestyle, this Swedish town, Eskilstuna, has sheltered a shopping mall for recycled good for almost two years now. The mall – ReTuna Återbruksgalleria – includes different shops with upcycled, recycled or sustainable products. The name, an amalgam of things, combines “Tuna,” a nickname for the town, “Återbruk,” meaning reuse and “Galleria” or mall.

ReTuna Återbruksgalleria Entrance

Source: Green Hack GBG.

No one in particular owns the mall or the idea; the people behind ReTuna Återbruksgalleria are a team of environmental activists based in Eskilstuna, aiming to make it the best town to handle waste-management. “We believe the decision comes from a combination of brave politicians and a desire to be the best municipality in waste, and be able to meet the challenges of the waste management in a whole new way,” Anna Bergstrom – one of the founders of the project – explains to progrss. “That involves the municipality, our company Eskilstuna Energi och miljö – a municipal corporation – and a couple of good lobbyists.”

With a business plan and an eagerness to save the planet, the shop-tenants got on board and the mall launched in August 2015. But it was hectic and Bergström was ready to give up on several occasions. “It wasn’t easy to get all the contracts ready before opening; I had advertisements in newspapers, radio, Facebook, on buses, posters as well as marketing phone calls,” she adds. 

Anna, one of the founders of ReTuna Återbruksgalleria

Anna Bergström in ReTuna Återbruksgalleria. Source: ReTuna

“It’s important for us that the tenants are business-like, that they want to earn money as much as they want to save the planet. Therefore, the shopping mall is commercially-driven.” Bergström and her team want to change the attitude towards consumption. She is clear that, unless they run the mall like a real one is, it’s just a game. 

“We [take] everything in a home or a household, we do not deny anything,” Bergström says. When they do receive things that they know they won’t be able to use, they pile them up and pass them on to other institutions that may make use out of it, like schools. Otherwise, the goods go to recycling stations located no more than 300 meters from any residential area in the country.

“I believe that you could sell sand in the desert,” she tells us. “It is not the goods that will make the business work or not, it’s up to the entrepreneur, how they are handling the business.”

With a workforce of 50 employees, the mall has nine running stores, selling reused stuff ranging from second-hand clothes, bicycles, sports to building materials, furnishings and furniture. There is also one restaurant, one educational center, one conference hall and meeting room, three small pop-up-stores and one storefront were shoppers can see all the products for sale before ordering them at the online shop.

In the depot, where the incoming goods are received and sorted, the team has engaged a social business to take care of receiving incoming materials, evaluate and distribute to tenants. There are 12 employees responsible for this task.

People in ReTuna Återbruksgalleria

A range of 600 to 700 people surge into the mall everyday. Source: TT.

Bergström says that the revenue covers the costs of having the store running and enough to provide for one employee. And although the tenants sometimes have difficulties making a profit, overall, the results are a bit better than they had expected. An average of 600 to 700 people visit ReTuna Återbruksgalleria per day and the mall is open seven days a week.

A big part of what makes this work, though, is that the residents of Eskilstuna are quite comfortable with the idea of buying second-hand products. “In Eskilstuna and in the rest of Sweden we [have started] to have more conscious consumption. But we still have much to do to [get] even more people to act sustainably,” she points out. Similar projects might not be quite as successful in cities where people are less accepting of the idea of buying second-hand and upcycled goods, meaning that environmental activists there would have a lot more work to do in terms of cognitive campaigning.

Although Bergström and her team would love to take the concept to other cities, their plan for the near future is to build a climate destination, and she says they have not reached this goal yet.

Sweden has long been leading the way when it comes to recycling, and the country is a forerunner of zero-waste circular systems. Today 99% of Sweden’s household waste is recycled, compared to only 38% in 1975.