A circular economy

Rediscovering skills in reuse and repair will be good for Edinburgh’s economy, says Gavin Corbett.

Almost everyone I speak to bemoans the amount of packaging and throwaway waste nowadays. You buy a tiny item from an online retailer and it comes swaddled in plastic and polystyrene and cardboard.

But that’s nothing compared to the frustration of seeing a year-old item break down and to be told by the retailer that it either cannot be repaired or – courtesy of sweatshop labour in faraway countries – the cost of buying a new one is less than the cost of repair.

And there’s a cost to all of this. It’s borne by our economy which, especially in Edinburgh, has seen manufacturing almost disappear, transferred to countries which turn a blind eye to worker safety and the local environment. It’s a cost borne by our crammed landfill sites and creaking waste collection systems.

It’s a financial cost too. Landfill tax and other costs sets Edinburgh back by well over £10 million a year. That’s council tax money not going to teachers or care assistants or road repairs.

What can we do? First of all we can and should make our own choices. Choose to buy from retailers who minimise packaging and who offer goods that last. We can recycle more and, slowly, much more slowly than other European countries, Edinburgh residents are recycling more.

But the much bigger task is to reduce dramatically the amount of waste in the first place. That’s where new projects like the Remakery on Leith Walk come in.

The Remakery and its parent body, Remade in Edinburgh, is a social enterprise based on a simple idea: that it is better to reuse and repair things than to chuck them away. It’s not so radical since this is how people have lived for thousands of years up until the 1960s at least. It’s how most people in the world still live. Indeed, Remade founder, Sophie Unwin, drew her inspiration from a year spent in Nepal, where virtually nothing was thrown away.

The Remakery occupies premises at the foot of Leith Walk which used to be a brah g of Santander Bank. The shop focuses on reconditioned household goods and computer equipment but it is much more than a retail outlet. For example, Remade offers workshops to teach people repair skills for themselves: textiles, for example, or computer repairs. There can be a real focus on people who need new skills or confidence to get in back into employment. And a partnership with local charity Chai can direct household items to people in greatest need.

Where could this go? Well, one project and shop is fantastic but to make a difference to the throwaway economy needs lots of Remakeries, a whole network of repair and re-use hubs. That potential expansion is why government body Zero Waste Scotland has invested some funds in the Remakery. It is also why the city council unanimously backed a motion I put down welcoming the Remakery.

With proper support I believe the Remakery could be the start of a repair and re-use revolution: with jobs, new skills and reduced pressure on waste collection all to play for. Over the next few months I’d like to see the city council step up its support to make this vision a reality.

Gavin Corbett is Green councillor for Fountainbridge-Craiglockhart and a member of Remade’s advisory group.  

This blog was first published by the Edinburgh Evening News on 12 July 2016