Be it a dress, chair, lamp or a pair of earrings, Kierrätyskeskus offers a service that tailor-makes items from recycled materials according to your preferences.

The current economic situation seems to have had an unexpected positive effect in promoting the sales of second-hand goods. Be it established charities or regular flea markets, the trade of second-hand items has many positives that come with every transaction.

While the economic downturn is damping the trade of clothing retailers, with the sales of businesses such as the iconic “fashion for all” company H&M going steadily downhill, charity shops selling second-hand items are enjoying steady, or in some cases even rocketing, growth.

In Finland there are several non-profit charities that not only work to improve societal and environmental aspects in Finland and around the world, but also perform as the important middle-men in taking up donations and preparing them for their new buyers.

Finland itself does not have the best possible standards when it comes to recycling, faring worse than average in an EU-wide study published in 2011 (Eurostat 8.3.2011). While over 45 per cent of our domestic waste ended up as landfill and under 20 per cent was incinerated in 2009, only 21 percent was recycled, and 13 per cent composted.

As a point of reference, the country most similar to Finnish waste disposal practises, Italy, fared better. Even while struggling with Mafia-related waste-disposal problems, Italy composted over 30 per cent of its waste, and had smaller figures of both landfill and incinerated waste. It is also worth noting that around 50 per cent of the total amount of methane (a harmful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to global warming) released in Finland comes from landfill areas.

Marjo Koivumäki

Drowning in fabric

Among the many materials that feed into what is called “domestic waste”, the share of textiles, especially in the form of clothes, has steadily been increasing.

In 2007 around 120 million kilos of virgin textile fibre arrived to Finland, while over 90 million kilos of used textile was also discarded. This means that an average Finn throws away about 16.8 kilos of fabric during one single year.

These figures are undeniably linked to the fact that the textile industry is currently producing nine times more fabric than gets purchased. This has a subsequent effect on the pricing of clothes, giving into increasing price competition, only to ultimately feed a vicious cycle.

Apart from the need to reduce consumption, there is also the need to deal with these masses of textile that will otherwise become labelled as “waste”, which is an enormous energy drain, and an environmental problem.

While it is difficult to calculate the long-term environmental costs of textile decomposing in landfill areas, we know what the harmful effects can be in the short term. In addition to releasing methane, decomposing clothing and shoes contain dyes and chemicals that can leach into the soil, contaminating both surface and groundwater.

There are several charity and non-profit entities that collect used/recycled textiles in Finland, the biggest of which are the Finnish Red Cross (SPR), UFF, the Salvation Army and Fida. It has been estimated that they collect around 25 million kilos of textiles a year, which is around 21 per cent of the yearly discarded textile. The rest ends up in landfill or incineration.

In fact, in most charity shops, clothes often are the single type of produce that exceeds all other items in terms of volume. One of the charities has taken a habit of centring their sales to this single type of product. With 1,432 textile collection boxes scattered around the country, UFF, a non-profit organisation, unofficially specialises in clothes, other textiles and accessories.

“Most of the items donated are regular female clothing,” says Johanna Kotonen, the press officer of the organisation. “In 2011 we received around 8.5 million kilos of clothes and textiles.” According to UFF’s estimates, the amount of people making clothing or textile donations reached a whopping 650,000 people in 2010. These donations helped to raise over 1.3 million euros that were used to support development partners in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and India in providing food security and basic education in the countryside. Also a portion of the donated clothing, 442,528 kilos to be exact, was transported to Africa.

Marjo Koivumäki

Cradle to cradle

A combination of creative ingenuity and a dash of economic crisis gave one non-profit second-hand seller a particularly strong boost in 2011. The Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre, or Kierrätyskeskus, as it is known in Finnish, was one of the most successful non-profit organisations of 2011, with a whopping 25 per cent growth in sales compared to the previous year. Kierrätyskeskus is a non-governmental establishment that works to improve our living environment by reducing the amount of waste and by increasing awareness about environmental issues.

According to Aatos Weckman, the sales manager of the organisation, the turnover of 3.9 million euros of 2011 can be attributed to the lengthening of opening times, and to the new extension of their Espoo outlet. Apart from the sale of recycled goods, the income comes also from the provision of consultation and education services for businesses, communities, schools and teachers on matters relating to the environment and sustainability.

Last year they founded a new handicraft concept called Näprä, that promotes the use of recycled materials in handicrafts in their workshops. When items are deemed to be discarded, the different materials are separated, so that all viable items could be redirected for new use. “Especially electronic equipment holds considerable amounts of natural resources,” Weckman emphasises. “Returning them back to use is especially sensible in environmental terms.”

Pop into the Kierrätyskeskus shop in Hietalahti, and you will find a funky room titled “Plan B” decorated with items in ways you might never have thought of doing yourself. The room also displays the many items and pieces of clothing made in the renewal workshops, still with very affordable prices. The adjacent room is filled with handicraft materials to cater for craft ideas you never knew existed.

Different groups may ask for workshops where they are taught how to make use of materials in building new products. “Our product and material renewal workshops also aim to encourage people to use their imagination, to see all the great things one can still make out of recycled materials,” Weckman says.

The financial success of Kierrätyskeskus undoubtedly follows the multilayered nature of the organisation. “Our business differs from regular business activity in that our goal is not to increase profits, but rather to develop services that ease people’s practical eco-deeds,” Weckman says, adding that the real meter of success is the amount of items that find a new home. “Last year we redirected almost two million items, which is a growth of 20 per cent from the previous year.” Around 38.5 per cent of these were given out for free. “If all of these items had been bought anew, the amount of virgin resources to make them would amount to about 22,000 tonnes. This is equivalent in weight to an 80 km queue of cars!” Weckman exclaims.


Kierrätystehdas 5-6 May
Sat - Sun 10:00-17:00
Cable Factory
Doors M1-M4
Tallberginkatu 1, Helsinki
Free entrance
Cleaning Day 12 May
Sat from 12:00 onwards
Makeshift flea markets will
spring up all around
Helsinki, Hyvinkää, Joensuu,
Järvenpää, Rovaniemi,
Tampere and Vantaa

In the beginning of this year, Kierrätyskeskus was awarded with the social enterprise label, which is given to entities that develop solutions to societal and environmental problems. Apart from working to improve environmental awareness, the organisation also aims to provide community service placements and paid work for people in difficult labour situations.

While it is commonly recognised that charities and non-profit organisations provide an invaluable link between consumers and important causes, the added benefit of recycling materials may echo most deeply in our minds. After all, recycling has been a common practice for most of human history, with recorded advocates as far back as Plato in 400 BC. Today, some new products often cost little more than recycled ones, confusing our ingrained senses of caring for and repairing our material possessions. Perhaps it is time to start questioning our craving for the new.

Jenni Toriseva