Late last month, Daniele caught up with Kade Hamalainen from Reverse Garbage Qld to learn a little more about what they do and why. Utilising waste as a resource is starting to get more traction (finally!!) and this socially and environmentally driven initiative is truly fantastic. Making a new garden bed? Go to Reverse Garbage! Doing some renovations at home? Go to Reverse Garbage! Getting crafty with your kids? Go to Reverse Garbage! It’s affordable, 100% recycled and doing good for our planet. Read on for more insights and recycling tips.
Can you tell us a little bit about Reverse Garbage and how it all began? Reverse Garbage Queensland began in 1998 as a means to support Friends of the Earth Brisbane, an environmentalist charity. The founders wanted to provide an example of a truly sustainable business; socially, economically, and environmentally. The concept of a creative reuse centre for industrial discards already had successful examples in Australia, and the founders thought it could be a successful business in Queensland. Environmentally, the business is committed to only selling items salvaged from the waste stream, outside of consumables like glue and paint that encourage reuse but cannot be found secondhand. Socially, the business is established as a not-for-profit, to ensure that the environmental purpose will always come before personal gain. Likewise, the business is also a worker-managed co-operative. All workers are encouraged to take leadership positions, and exploitation is minimised because everyone can have a vote in how the business runs. The economic sustainability is met through responsible business practices and is encouraged by never taking ongoing sponsorship or funding from other organisations or governments.
(You can read more about our establishment here: http://johnswheelbarrow.
Why do you do what you do? Fundamentally, we want to live in a world with an environmentally-regenerative, egalitarian economy and society. In a more contextual way, we want to prevent waste going to landfill by selling it and also preventing new materials being made into new products unnecessarily. We want to educate people about the issues with how waste is purposefully or negligently created, and their relationship to waste as consumers, workers and investors.
How can people get involved? People can get involved with Reverse Garbage Queensland by visiting our store and buying clean, industrial discards from us instead of new products, signing up for an eco-art workshop, or browsing our gift store. We do accept volunteers, but only if we have the capacity to train them and they can make a regular commitment. If people have quality secondhand items, they can see our donations page on our website for accepted materials and instructions: http://www.reversegarbageqld.
What is the strangest or most unexpected donation you’ve received at Reverse Garbage? That is a great question! I’ve honestly seen so many unexpected items here. A very recent donation we had was a complete 3D cardboard city, where many of the buildings were 2m tall. Likewise, we had a life-sized TARDIS from a production set once. Many of our items are the offcuts from manufacturing, so the polar opposite of a product you can buy elsewhere.
What kinds of repurposing projects are you most proud to be a part of? We don’t do much in the way of repurposing items ourselves – we try to keep our stock as raw as possible, to offer as many potential futures for it as we can. We particularly love it when we get a picture of a customer who managed to complete a project almost entirely using secondhand materials – be it a garden bed, cosplay, university project, classroom project for teachers or even part of a home renovation.
Who are some other creatives, movers and shakers that you love and why? We firstly have to point out that we love the work of the 30+ artists we exhibit in our Reverse Emporium. We’ve also had some interactions with Boomerang Bags and Share Shed, and we love how they help promote and make reuse possible through their operations.
How do you tackle the job of being an ‘environmental’ business? Does it make life difficult?
What are the challenges involved? It would be a lot easier to operate if we could completely disregard the environment, especially if our purpose was to maximise profits. It’s no wonder there’s a swathe of lobbyists trying to relax environmental regulations for their corporate benefactors! However, our purpose is to ensure the creative reuse of the materials we collect, and we’ve built our business around that goal from day one. Our policies and practices are aligned for sustainability, and we nurture that culture of taking into account the environmental costs of production, and not just the monetary costs. Some challenges for us are to do with carefully planning our product intake. We have limited storage facilities, and need to try and predict what will sell. Unfortunately, the waste stream is so vast, especially since the removal of landfill levies in Queensland, and we can only take high-quality items for immediate reuse.
What tips can you share about being aware of your impacts on the world? As a consumer, it’s very difficult to know what are truly sustainable practices, especially with the abundance of green-washing, and the lack of transparency and accountability around. In general, we can recommend for people to:
1. Seek secondhand materials first (e.g. op-shop for clothes).
2. Seek experiences over material possession (e.g. take someone for dinner, rather than buying them a trinket).
3. Seek access over ownership (e.g. can you borrow a drill, rather than buying it for only 20 minutes of lifetime use? Share Shed are a great organisation in regards to this tip).
4. Seek durable items (e.g. get quality items that don’t require ongoing replacements constantly).
As a business, everything that you are doing or not doing has some kind of environmental impact. We encourage forms of business that don’t require that profit subordinates all other goals, such as sustainability, or voting rights for workers.
What do you see as the future for recycling in Australia? Or what would you like to see? Reverse Garbage Queensland does not have an official position on this issue, other than for encouraging more sustainability. Personally, I would like to see stronger product stewardship laws, universal waste-levies (Qld dropped theirs a few years ago), more state investment in recyclable materials and recycling infrastructure, and more state and policy support for forms of business that can have sustainability as their main objective, such as not-for-profits, co-operatives, mutuals, and friendly societies.
What is success, how do you measure the “good” you do? Success is globally achieving environmentally-regenerative, egalitarian economies and societies. It’s difficult for us to measure this specifically. In a more contextual way, we have such random and temporary product lines that we simply use our profitability to measure how well we are doing. Our operations are sustainable from the ground up, so more revenue does mean more impact for us. The gold-standard for measuring impact would be along the lines of organisations like Give Well, but we are in no way large enough to warrant their investigation.
Where can we find and follow you? Find us and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Our warehouse, which is open to the public, is at 20 Burke St, Woolloongabba, and is right next to Park Rd and Boggo Rd stations. Our website is simply: reversegarbageqld.com.au and it has plenty of information about us and what we do on it.