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Academia meets business at ReTuren: Social Innovation and Sustainability

Could Southern Skane’s municipality owned waste management company, VA SYD be an inspiration for others on advancing towards circular economy? Grounded by research, focused on practical applications and strong sense of communication the ReTuren project incorporates social and environmental sustainability and aims to reduce waste and change behaviour with the help of a social innovation researcher at Malmö University.
Savita Upadhaya and Anna Strannegård at ReTuren in Malmö.
Savita Upadhaya and Anna Strannegård at ReTuren in Malmö.

“This place is user-friendly and encourages people from all ages to come, to use it as a platform to interact, learn and contribute to the environment’’, says Savita Upadhaya, who has been at the forefront of this project. ReTuren, a recycling center that co-exists with a café projects a welcoming aura. The intention is to provide people opportunities to learn about waste and sustainability through creative activities, workshops while at the same time enabling people to donate things not needed anymore, or to take something from the varied collection of clothes, books, kitchenware and small furniture at ReTuren. 

ReTuren in Malmö. Photo: Anna Strannegård
ReTuren in Malmö. Photo: Anna Strannegård

Following a unique approach, ReTuren acts as a role model for others as the development of the project has followed academic research closely. ‘’We have worked together with a researcher, Anna Seravalli, before we started up. Part of her job was to teach us citizen involvement and how we should communicate with people’’, describes Anna Strannegård who is the coordinator at ReTuren. Working with Anna Seravalli, a social design innovation researcher at Malmö University, ReTuren has developed communication strategies and citizen involvement projects for a successful implementation of the project. One such strategy involves establishing a local connection to involve more local citizens. As Anna explains, “We hired a woman from the local Red Cross-organization here in Lindängen as a communicator for half time during the spring when we had opened up for 2-3 months. She knew everyone and was a good ambassador for our project”.

Another aspect of how citizen involvement is ensured at ReTuren, is through establishing a communication channel with the people. Anna explains, ‘’We have asked the visitors what they want. We add and change. It´s a lively project that is always developing. We changed our opening hours after we received feedback on what timings would better suit people.’’. Savita urges, ‘’A lot of things could be done in cooperation with the local citizens. In March, we started working with the Högaholm school, Framtidens Hus, Allaktivitetshuset, and Folkets hus where pianos were painted. Now they are placed at Lindängen centre for planned events, open stage and concerts. We also had a mini project, ‘Paint Bench’ where children with their parents and other people painted their ideas about future development of their locality’’.

The \"paint bench\" at ReTuren.
The "paint bench" at ReTuren.

ReTuren is communicating about sustainability through the many activities that are organized such as the ‘Fat event’. As Anna describes, ‘‘At the fat event, we had invited people to food, to come and learn about our recycling centre and how to collect used cooking oil through one of our designed PET bottle add-ons instead of throwing it in the drain.’’ A more hands on approach followed by ReTuren is through workshops such as those on bike repairs, clothing repairs, etc. In addition, Returen also functions as a waste collection site where people can bring other wastes to recycle such as hazardous waste. Such initiatives form a crucial part of social sustainability at ReTuren that aims to bring knowledge and behavior change to people through fun and creative activities. According to Savita, “4 tons of goods have been saved since the start of ReTuren in November 2015”.

Anna shows a device for collecting frying fat at home
Anna shows a device for collecting frying fat at home. The fat may then be left at the waste station at ReTuren.

As Savita puts it, “The motivation behind ReTuren was to reduce the amount of household waste as 80% citizens live in apartments in Malmö with 7000 people in Lindängen district, generating 500 kg/person waste.” Savita sees many positive outcomes of the project and hopes that there would be more of such initiatives as the project would soon come through the evaluation phase. She acknowledges the challenges faced but at the same time emphasizes on the importance of the process being a learning one and the project to be an experimental one. Realizing that such an initiative is part of a movement towards a circular economy, Savita and Anna don’t feel that there is any competition with second hand stores expressing that first, ReTuren functions differently and second, that there is just too much wasted goods at the moment meaning high potential for such initiatives.

Scientifically grounded, participatory in nature, and open minded, VA SYD follows their motto ’for the environment, close to you’ (translated from Swedish), and attempts to bring change to the throughput economy. In future, they hope to set up similar initiatives, around ten across Malmo, with a similar aim to reduce and upcycle waste, create social and environmental sustainability and change behaviour.

Text: Aakash Dhingra, a student journalist at Sustainability Forum and a master student at LUCSUS, Lund University.

Short facts on the project

  • Pilot started in November,2015

  • Parties involved: VA SYD, Sysav, Stpln, Stadsområde Söder, JobbMalmö, K3 Malmö högskola

  • Financer: Vinnova

  • Location: Lindgården Lindängen, Malmö, Sweden

  • Currently in evaluation phase till November, 2016



Piano Project:

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