Case study: How reuse shops help boost the circular economy

Dec 18, 2023 | Articles, Monthly Briefing

With the cost-of-living crisis showing no signs of easing, second-hand consumerism looks set to go mainstream, as shoppers look for cheaper options for daily items. In part to answer this demand, there is now a growing need for more reuse shops to supply repaired household goods, so that consumers can participate in the circular economy.

Not to be mistaken for a charity shop, a reuse shop is a combination of workshop and retail space where people can bring pre-owned items, such as old furniture, unused paint, white goods and bikes, for repairing (if required) and resell at a much-discounted price. In the UK, reuse shops are often operated by waste management companies as a support service to household waste recycling centres (HWRC) run by local authorities. When infrastructure developments occur, it is increasingly commonplace that a new HWRC site will accommodate a reuse shop as an integral part of the service offering. The Reuse Network offers examples of the many ways that reuse charities across the UK are helping to alleviate poverty, reduce waste and tackle climate change.

SLR Consulting designed a new reuse shop in Hartcliffe, Bristol which was commissioned in June 2022. A 300m2 former depot site was transformed into a reuse shop, and now serves more than 150,000 local people. It features a retail area with shelves and movable display units for the sale of various items, which are regularly refreshed. A staff-only workshop is embedded in the reuse shop, with water, TV aerial and electricity connection points installed for testing electrical appliances such as fridges, washing machines and telecommunication appliances. The workshop is also equipped with a furniture repair station. A kitchen area has been reserved to allow for future integration, so that the reuse shop can expand the range of items it can repair.

Entrance to the reuse shop

Retail space inside the reuse shop

Shop location and design can play an important part in ensuring a reuse shop is successful. Ideally, it should be sited close to residential areas, with good access to and from roads so that consumers can easily drop off their used items.

Reuse shops continue to evolve to meet the needs of customers. Some offer a rental service for household appliances, and many harness social media to raise awareness of the vital role they play as a community hub that not only connects local repairers with local people, but also offers upskilling opportunities to those who would like to learn how to “self-repair”.

There are certainly increasing (and encouraging) signs that consumers want to engage with the concept of reuse (and one contributing factor has certainly been BBC TV show The Repair Shop), which presents waste management companies with a real opportunity to be innovative about how to realise more value from the waste streams they collect.

To help accelerate further growth, so making a real difference, suitable locations need to be identified to accommodate well-designed reuse shops. These then need to be staffed with suitably trained personnel able to perform and/or oversee a wide range of repairing services. Experience from Bristol suggests that, if the shop is available and convenient, people will come; and all of those that do are taking a step, however small, towards a more circular economy.

Author: Bonia Leung, Principal Consultant – Sustainable Waste Management