In an effort to reduce waste to landfill and promote reuse and repair, the city of Berlin has opened its own secondhand department store.
It’s not quite an opp shop. Rather, it resells perfectly good items from retail outlets that would otherwise be sent to landfill. A pun on the German words for ‘department store’ and ‘conserving house’, B-Wa(h)renhaus sells a range of products, including high-quality used clothing, upcycled products, household items, furniture, phones and computers.
Far from simply selling used goods “as-is” — that is, in whatever condition — electronic goods, for example, are repaired by expert technicians and come with a one-year warranty.
And, to reach beyond the standard demographic of secondhand shoppers, the store has been built right in the middle of the famous Karstadt department store.
With the success of its initial six-month trial run on the third floor of the Karstadt, the city plans to open four more similar stores in other parts of Berlin either as standalones or within department stores. Berlin says it wants to demonstrate the “warehouses of the future”, incorporating a shop, space for workshops and events, repair cafés, and restaurants that use ‘saved food’ that’s past its best-before date but still safe to eat. Talks are ongoing with several possible partners. By 2030, it hopes to have at least one in each of Berlin’s 12 boroughs. “The aim is to anchor the re-use of used goods in urban society and to establish it permanently,” the city said in a statement.
These stores are just the latest addition to Berlin’s impressive eco-resumé. Since 2008, city policies and educational campaigns have reduced average annual household waste by about 11kg per resident. It also recycles about 49% of its mineral construction waste, such as bricks and concrete.
Currently, the city estimates that 8% of discarded electronic goods and 6% of bulky items thrown away can be reused. The goal is to expand the market for these items beyond the usual bargain hunters and eco-conscious consumers.
“Three years ago, we started collecting all kinds of used goods that people have in their cellars or attics,” city spokesperson Dorothee Winden told Bloomberg CityLab. “Things that are well-preserved and functioning but aren’t being used anymore. The goal is to give these things a new life with somebody who can use them.”
The store also runs an education centre and has given an award to a project that recycles school uniforms so parents don’t have to buy new ones every year. It has also connected the Berlin City Homeless Mission with online apparel retailers who are donating clothing that has been returned to them and cannot be re-sold.
New York startup recycles fashion's textile leftovers
Meantime, New York City’s Fabscrap has established a recycling service for fabric cuttings and textile leftovers. As well as an online store, it has a physical location that’s part secondhand shop, part recycling facility for fashion industry waste collected from top brands such as J. Crew, Nautica, and Macy’s.
While working at New York City’s Bureau of Recycling and Sustainability, Fabscrap founder Jessica Schreiber noted that many of the city’s iconic fashion industry names were ringing her office asking what to do with textile waste.
Given the city requires the recycling of any material if it amounts to more than 10% commercial waste, she realised the problem represented an unfulfilled niche that would make a good business model. So she pitched her idea to “Project Runway: Fashion Startup” and was awarded seed money to build a company that would pick up textile waste from fashion houses and find ways to reuse or recycle it.
Accumulating 20 clients in her first year, Schreiber now manages the waste of 434 different brands, and her work has seen 270 tonnes of textiles and fabric spared from entering the city’s landfills.
ABOVE A display at B-Wa(h)renhaus in the Karstadt department store