Kierrätyskeskus - reuse centres in Finland

May 16, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Kierrätyskeskus: making better use of things in Finland, something we should all do...

Amid growing concerns over global warming, plastic in our oceans and the problems of electronic waste, there are some developing solutions. In Finland Kierrätyskeskus (re-use centres) have been going since the early 1990s.  Owned by Helsinki city council, but run independently, there are now eight shops in and around Helsinki offering second-hand, repaired and upcycled items. Everything is donated by the public, via drop off centres, or at the shops or via home collection. All profit is used to improve local environmental and waste services.  

Kaisa Karjalainen, an environmental engineer at Pääkaupunkiseudun Kierrätyskeskus Oy, develops education programmes to engage school and the community.  Last year 40,000 people were trained in environKaisa Karjalainen, an environmental engineer at Pääkaupunkiseudun Kierrätyskeskus Oy, develops education programmes to engage school and the community. Last year 40,000 people were trained in environKaisa Karjalainen, an environmental engineer at Pääkaupunkiseudun Kierrätyskeskus Oy, develops education programmes to engage school and the community. Last year 40,000 people were trained in environ

Even though it’s a cold March day, hovering just around zero degrees, at 9am prompt the Nihtisillan store, in Espoo, opens.  There is a small queue outside, waiting to see what is on the ‘Free Items’ shelves. For some people this is a lifeline, for others a bargain.

Inside is the main drop off area, staff are already busy sorting items left overnight. The goods are then taken to different departments for further inspection and sorting. Inside there are repair shops for bicycles, clothing, sports equipment, housewares, furniture, electrical and electronics and a handicrafts area.  Once repaired or reused, the items are placed in the shop, or posted online for sale.  Some goods, like white goods (fridges, freezers and washing machines) are taken to another store, in Kyläsaari, to be repaired. 

Around 250 people work at Nihtisillan, the largest shop run by Kierrätyskeskus. About half of the employees do repairs, the others work in the shop or offices. It is also a social enterprise offering employment to the long-term unemployed and those seeking to re-enter employment. As well as employment, the organisation offers free skills training and language courses (in Finnish and English).

Kyläsaari, the oldest store is much smaller with only 50 employees. This was the first reuse store.  It  opened in 1990, in a facility that used to be a municipal incineration plant. Much of that site is now turned over to more sustainable forms of recycling. 

Handicrafts are currently popular in Finland.  This provides and number of opportunities.  One is a new product line via another team, Napro.  Secondly, it provides an outlet for odd and small items that would otherwise be recycled. A current favourite, and popular with children is keppiheronen, or a hobby horse, which are made and then used in ‘competitions’. 

Repaired and refurbished electrical goods on sale in the Nihtisillan store. All machines come with a statement of the work carried out and a warranty.Repaired and refurbished electrical goods on sale in the Nihtisillan store. All machines come with a statement of the work carried out and a warranty.

Asko an electronics repairer, explains that “many faulty items are often due to dirt or one simple component, such as a capacitor having burned out”.  He further explains that “it is usually because the manufacturer has used a cheap and poor-quality source”.  Having diagnosed the fault and completed the repair, it is tested before being sold with a warranty. Each item comes with a certificate explaining what has been done to it. 

Around 250 people work at Nihtisillan, the largest shop run by Kierrätyskeskus. About half of the employees do repairs, the others work in the shop or offices. It is also a social enterprise offering employment to the long-term unemployed and those seeking to re-enter employment. As well as employment, the organisation offers free skills training and language courses (in Finnish and English).

Kyläsaari, the oldest store is much smaller with only 50 employees. This was the first reuse store.  It  opened in 1990, in a facility that used to be a municipal incineration plant. Much of that site is now turned over to more sustainable forms of recycling. 

Not everything can be repaired or reused. Kaisa, an environmental engineer at the headquarters Pääkaupunkiseudun Kierrätyskeskus Oy, estimates that “of the goods brought in around 60% are directly repaired and reused, a further 30% are unrepairable and sent for materials recycling, at another waste management centre in Vantaa, and only 10% go for energy recovery via incineration.  Our aim is to increase the reuse even more and to encourage more people to use this service”. 

She indicates that they are also “seeing many more problems in the last few years with donated goods not being repairable or reusable. This is usually due to issues such as the goods being ‘fast fashion’ with poor quality, that cannot easily be reused or upcycled. Or furniture not designed to be reused or taken apart and with components that are difficult to modify, rendering reuse uneconomic”. 

The Kierrätyskeskus approach aims to help Helsinki move towards a circular economy, considered by many to be the only real solution to the environmental and sustainability crises.

Electric motors from unrepairable washing machines are retained for use as spares and to repair other machines.  This helps ensure high levels of reuse.Electric motors from unrepairable washing machines are retained for use as spares and to repair other machines. This helps ensure high levels of reuse.

 


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