The RecyclingBörse!: Saving resources by recycling

Every year, 1.7 million tonnes of electronic scrap is accrued in Germany alone – and 750,000 tonnes of clothing also end up in the rubbish on an annual basis. Even though levels of recycling are very high in Germany compared to global standards, it is still a challenge, first of all to collect the discarded items and to place them for further use. To this end, the non-profit work group Recycling e. V. (AKR), which was set up in 1984 by a group of long-term unemployed people, runs the RecyclingBörsen! (Recycling Exchanges). The project not only conserves resources and thus contributes to climate protection, but at the same time it also creates jobs and additional places on training schemes.

The OWL region now has eight RecyclingBörsen: in the district of Herford, in Bielefeld and in Bad Salzuflen. On behalf of, or in collaboration with the municipalities, they collect items that are still in good condition from households, institutions and businesses: from bicycles to electrical equipment, also including clothes, books, furniture and other household goods.

Engine for progress:

  • Saving resources by reusing products
  • Increase in the rates of recycling by means of improved collection
  • Creation of jobs and places on training schemes
  • Raising awareness of the conservation of resources

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Photo: RecyclingBörse / Ralf Bittner

When something is labelled “electrical scrap”, it may still be serviceable. About five per cent of the equipment disposed of by households as e-waste is still usable and can be tested to ensure it is electrically safe and working properly and then reused, even without needing to be repaired.

An emphasis on recycling

The work of the RecylingBörsen! is particularly pioneering in terms of collecting old electrical equipment: back at the start of the 1990s, 15 years before the German Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act on collecting and recovering waste electrical equipment came into force, the AKR set up a mobile collection system. In 1993, this was followed by their own accredited specialist company for recycling waste electrical items. Recycling electrical equipment has always been top priority. All items of equipment that appear to be in an intact condition are inspected for safety and to see if they work properly; if necessary they are reconditioned and then sold on at the company’s own second hand shops. In this way, the RecyclingBörsen! achieve a reuse quota of five per cent – which is up to five times higher than the national average for Germany, depending on the data source.

In the case of other product categories, they also work intensively to make sure as many products as possible are recycled or reused. Second-hand clothing is presented at fashion shows, for example, and fabric remnants are made into bags. Bicycle repair shops have been set up in several locations. Innovative formats, such as the exchange campaign “2 kilos of goods for 1 kilo of potatoes”, also repeatedly attract attention.

Far beyond OWL

AKR works through various projects to encourage society in general to further embrace the theme of resource consumption. In this context, it has initiated projects such as RECOM (social commitment in companies in the reuse, recycling and waste disposal sector), WiRD (building a collaborative and quality network for recycling) or LoNak (local sustainable circular economy) and it constantly promotes networking in the social and reuse sectors.

From the very start, the people in charge have sought dialogue with the arts and have themselves initiated and engaged in cultural activities. In 2007, for example, the German RecyclingDesignAward came into being, the only competition in Germany to focus on the issue of resource-efficient design. Up to 500 designers of the next generation from Germany and abroad now take part in the competition, which was originally launched on a national level, and there is a special category presenting awards for schoolchildren and workshops from North Rhine-Westphalia. The exhibits are displayed in a permanent collection, which also presents exemplary sustainability projects aimed at saving resources that are didactically organised for school classes and associations.

The best-known of the designs to emerge from the RecylcingBörse’s creative workshop is arguably the “FRANK” shelf system made of old furniture and residual wood, which has meanwhile achieved the reputation of being one of the world’s most successful pieces of upcycled furniture and is also being produced in a collaborative project with the Wittekindshof welfare and social foundation, a facility for people with disabilities.

RecyclingBörse! An engine for jobs

Not only does the work of the RecyclingBörsen! contribute to climate protection, it also generates jobs. At least 50 regular jobs have been created so far. In addition, there are around 80 places on schemes to improve skills and provide bridging employment which are part of job market support programmes aimed at (re)integrating the unemployed or providing them with training.

Photo: RecyclingBörse!

"Recycling, or reuse, is the best and smartest way to contribute towards conserving resources by extending the service life of a product. What is more, it protects the climate, because fewer emissions are produced as a result of avoiding the manufacture of new products."

Joachim Strasas, Management Board of Arbeitskreis Recycling e. V. (Recycling work group)

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