Let’s talk eco…with Andrea Bergström of ReTuna Recycling Galleria, Sweden

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Did you know that, back in 1969, Sweden was the first country in the world that passed an Environment Protection Act? Since then, the country has tackled many environmental challenges, like acidification, chemicals and climate change. Even though there is still lots to do, Sweden has achieved that much to have ranked among the top ten countries in the Environment Performance Index for the last 10 years. In 2015, the Swedish government set further ambitious goals for a sustainable and climate-smart society, including becoming one of the world’s first fossil-free countries and laying the foundation for a circular economy, in which waste is reused as resource. Coincidence or not, in the same year, Sweden opened the world’s first shopping mall for recycled and up-cycled goods in the small city Eskilstuna.

How does the world’s first recycling mall work?

ReTuna Återbruksgalleria, or ReTuna Recycling Galleria, is connected with a recycling centre, where people can drop off goods that they no longer need. As many of these goods as possible get repaired, refined or up-cycled in one of the shops including home decor and furniture, housewares, refurbished electronics, pet supplies, fashion and sporting goods. The purpose of ReTuna Recycling Galleria is to foster a sustainable way of shopping with minimal impact to the environment. All private businesses and social enterprises in the mall must operate in an eco-friendly way. The centre itself is operated by the municipality and also serves for public education in relation to environmental issues.retuna-recycling-mall-entre-uppifraan

Interview with Andrea Bergström of ReTuna Recycling Galleria

greenlooksgreat (glg) spoke with Anna Bergström (AB), Mall Manager at ReTuna Återbruksgalleria, to find out more about this innovative mall concept.

(glg) Dear Mrs. Bergström, as Green Lifestyle Bloggers we loved to hear that with ReTuna Recycling Galleria the world’s first shopping mall dedicated to repaired and up-cycled goods has opened. Can you please share with us who had the idea?

(AB) The idea came from the Waste Management Plan, that gives all countries within the EU guidelines on how to handle their waste. According to this plan, we should all start to reduce waste and begin to reuse, to see waste as a resource instead of something to throw away. We from Eskilstuna Energi och Miljö, the local public utility company, wanted to do more and started to think about establishing a reutilization area – consisting of a recycling center and some kind of waste-to-reuse business – where the inhabitants could learn about living a more sustainable life, where people could reuse the waste and that could also create more work opportunities. So, in 2012 after a lot of brainstorming, thinking and planning, the decision of building the recycle facility was made by the politicians in the Eskilstuna municipality. In August 2014 the building phase began and on 28 August 2015 we opened the first up-cycling shopping mall together with the recycling center!

Sweden has achieved a fantastic 3rd rank in the Environmental Performance Index 2016. Congratulations! Hence, with Sweden’s strong focus on environmental issues, are we right to assume that setting up ReTuna Recycling Galleria was all smooth, maybe even supported by national government funding?

When the decision was made in 2013, Eskilstuna had a political leadership (social democrats and the green party) with the right mindset. So, I think this was a circumstance that made the decision easier. However, with the election in 2014 the political leadership changed and the decision got constantly questioned. Not the idea itself, but the question came up whether the municipality really was the one to build and run such a business. Another big question was whether the business would be profitable or, since Eskilstuna Energi och Miljö is a company owned by the municipality, if it would cost the municipality a lot of money. We promised that we would become self-supporting within three years and the political leadership bought the deal. We are self-supporting today, only two years after opening the mall! This year the results are minus, but we will turn around for next year’s result.

Judging from the pictures, the Recycling Galleria looks very modern and fancy, maybe even better than some regular shopping malls. Can you please describe the atmosphere at the mall a bit? And how would you rate the product range and price level at ReTuna Recycling Galleria compared to regular malls? 

It was important for us that the mall looked and felt like any other shopping mall and I’m glad that you think we might look even better! The whole point is to make second-hand, repaired and up-cycled products more attractive. To achieve this, we knew that the mall needed to be modern and trendy. Our products are not always perfect, but the mall needs to be perfect. People who come here for the first time are impressed by how it looks: Before they often think of us as a flea market, but when they visit they are surprised. And that goes for the pricing too. They think they will shop cheap, but are surprised when they need to pay more for the products!

Changing people’s behavior usually takes time. How is the mall concept accepted by Swedish customers so far?

Most of our visitors love the concept. Some think it’s too expensive and others that it’s too cheap. Some are curios and some are aware. We have a very varied customer base, most of them are very happy about the whole business concept.

ReTuna Recycling Galleria is an innovative concept to foster conscious consumerism. Is there any plan to extend this concept to other Swedish towns or even to other countries? 

Our mission is in Eskilstuna, but we are of course an inspiration for other municipalities, cities and counties. We want the concept to spread, we want to help save the planet and we can’t do it alone.

Even though the mall is only open for two years, can you already see a positive impact of the concept on the community and the environment?

When we opened we used to brag about the concept: how good everything looked at ReTuna, how cool we were, how we would become the trendsetters and how the rest of the world would come to visit us and contact us for information. There were many who laughed at us, then. Now we can see our installations and furnishing in all shopping malls in Eskilstuna and in other cities. We have about six study groups visiting every week, other municipalities come to learn about our business, we’re getting requests from all over the world and everybody wants to know how to make their own “ReTuna”. Now that ReTuna is successful, everybody is happy and we laugh together. Of course, ReTuna has brought many good things for the city, mostly as a destination for expertise in circular economy concepts.

Thank you very much, Mrs. Bergström, for this insightful interview. We are very impressed and would love to see this concept spread widely.


Email interview: Questions by Mary Schmidt

Pictures: © ReTuna Återbruksgalleria