When you think of re-use, an image of pop star Lady Gaga would not necessarily be the first to come to mind. But her eccentric fashion sense meant the American singer epitomised re-use last year when the foil material for one of her dresses came from the Suffolk Scrapstore.
Suffolk is one of a network of shops making up Scrapstores UK, a registered re-use charity with a difference. According to Scrapstores UK national co-ordinator Nikki DiGiovanni: “Scrapstore is a generic term relating to resource centres that provide reusable materials to their local communities for creative purposes.”
There is some disagreement among the individual Scrapstores as to which was the first to open or, indeed, where the idea originated. But according to DiGiovanni, the Scrapstore in Hackney, east London, has been open since 1978, so it is fair to say that the concept is not a new one in the UK. Before coming to the UK, Scrapstores existed in some form or another in both Australia and the US, and the idea was adapted to suit the UK market.
The basic premise of a Scrapstore is exactly that: a store selling scrap. But the community benefits asso- ciated with them mean that, in some locations, they have become an integral part of the areas they serve.
The materials sold in Scrapstores are usually collected from local industry and businesses, and comprise of clean, dry and non-toxic waste items. Many are new, unused or offcut raw materials, as well as seconds that are surplus to a manufacturer’s requirements and would normally be sent to landfill. Local and national businesses provide material to Scrapstores in their areas, and the organisation currently boasts an impressive list of multinational companies from which it collects waste: IKEA, Next, Wrigleys and Mars, to name but a few.
Scrapstores collect the unwanted materials and offer them to community organisations such as schools, playgroups, scouts/guides, after-school organisations and so on, which take the materials for use in art, craft and creative play activities. Many Scrapstores provide membership schemes, whereby users pay an annual subscription for access to the shop and its materials. Some may charge for materials while others offer them free.
As DiGiovanni explains, the Scrapstores work on a proximity basis, with each branch taking the waste from its local area. “It wouldn’t make environmental sense to be transporting waste the length and breadth of the country,” she says. “But this doesn’t have to mean that all Scrapstores end up selling the same material all of the time.
“Through the Scrapstores UK network, we organise Scrap Swaps where people from all stores bring their surplus and people from other stores can choose what they want. It works on a first come, first served basis - everyone has an opportunity to look around first and then a whistle blows and people have a certain time to grab whatever they want for their shop.”
Although individual Scrapstores have been in existence for quite some time, the Scrapstores UK Network, which DiGiovanni co-ordinates, is a relatively new concept.
“Before we formed the national network, the only way the different stores interacted with each other was through email contact,” she says. “A feasibility study was done a few years ago to see if it would make sense to join them up in a more co-ordinated way, and that is where the idea for the national network came from. It is still a relatively new concept at the moment, having been officially launched last August, but it does allow for greater sharing of ideas and best practices.”
The membership to the national network costs just £25 a year, which DiGiovanni believes is a worthwhile investment.
“Every store which signs up to the network has the opportunity to send one representative on a training course,” she says. “This can be a great help to them because one of the biggest issues for the Scrapstores can be getting insurance, so we talk them through the best ways to deal with this on the training course and can offer help and advice.”
Each Scrapstore is managed separately and there is no set model. Some work in conjunction with local authorities while others are run as standalone entities. Although, they are very popular in the areas they operate, keeping them going during the recession climate has not proved to be easy.
One of the most common problems faced by shops is the collection of materials. It is not economically viable to collect the scrap free of charge especially, as DiGiovanni explains, donor businesses would otherwise be paying for it to be collected by a commercial waste company. “Businesses need to understand that essentially we are providing them with a service and, as a charity, we don’t have the resources to collect the material from them free of charge. We need more businesses to be open to the idea of either bringing material to the Scrapstores or paying us to collect it.
“I hope that, as more people become aware of the good work we are trying to do, they will see that we are offering an essential service which is also good news for the environment, because it is diverting waste that would otherwise end up in landfill.”
As well as the environmental benefits, DiGiovanni points out that community and education bodies are able to save money on art and craft materials by being able to access re-usable items, which generally tend to be more varied in terms of colours, textures and types of material compared with what they might be able to purchase in a shop.
“If you take something like Lego,” she says, “you would be looking at paying about £20 for a reasonable sized pack. You can get a far bigger pack of different materials for about £13 or less from Scrapstores. So you can see that it makes economic sense, and children get to use materials they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
“We need as many businesses as possible to keep on donating materials so we can carry on growing our national network. I hope that once more people become aware of what we are trying to achieve, things will go from strength to strength.”
SCRAPSTORE BY NUMBERS*
98 active established Scrapstores in the UK
80,000 supported member groups nationally
6.7 million young people benefiting from Scrapstores nationally
10,500 tonnes of composite and high-volume, low-weight materials diverted annually from landfill
3,500 companies currently supporting Scrapstores
*Average figures based on a 25% response to national survey of Scrapstores