Sweden has a reputation for having one of the best recycling rates worldwide, so it should not be surprising that the Nordic country is home to the world’s first mall that only sells recycled, upcycled and repaired goods. ReTuna Återbruksgalleria, which is about 75 miles west of Stockholm, opened in August 2015 in the city of Eskilstuna.
Functioning as part recycling depot, part shopping experience, and part education center, ReTuna features 15 stores, a restaurant and conference facilities. The mall includes retail shops for home decor and furniture, refurbished computers and electronics, housewares, sporting goods, and outdoor plants. Several of these stores also function as “do-it-yourself” showrooms, where customers can learn tasks such as how to repair household items or make their own lamps. Sustainable living mavens can also take a break in ReTuna’s café, which offers organic and sustainable fare.
The mall is a partnership between the municipal government, nonprofits, and local businesses. And its staff also maintains a busy community-oriented calendar. Sweden’s ruling Social Democrat and Green party coalition has steadily shown commitment to circular economy prospects, introducing tax breaks on repairs to everything – from bicycles to washing machines – so it will no longer make sense to throw out old or broken items and buy new ones. Sweden has cut its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 23% since 1990 and already generates more than half of its electricity from renewable sources.
But emissions linked to consumption have stubbornly risen, so any policy planned should be tied in with international trends around reduced consumption and crafts, such as the “maker movement” and the sharing economy, both of which have many followers in Sweden. In other words, waste prevention is now a top priority for Sweden, whose manufacturing waste increased by 60 percent per person between 1980 and 2005.
ReTuna is meant to serve this purpose but has obviously endured its share of growing pains, and its general manager acknowledged in one interview that some stores are struggling to make a profit. Of course, the challenge the shopping center faces is that no one else has attempted such a business model, which makes for a huge learning curve.
But Eskilstuna’s 67,000 residents seem more and more open to the idea of buying repurposed and refurbished goods, which is inspiring ReTuna to set an even bigger goal: to position this town as a global destination that will showcase what sustainable living and the circular economy are all about. The center, which is operated by the local municipality, has benefitted the local economy by creating 50 new repair and retail jobs and providing space for private start-ups and the local artisans. The biggest bonus for the Swedish community is how the center relieves local government from the tremendous burden and expense of disposing of unwanted goods while turning potential “waste” into profits.