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By Olivia Spring


Each year, an estimated £140 million of clothing and textiles are sent to landfills, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Much of this clothing holds untapped potential. Recently Edinburgh Zoo donated its old uniforms to SHRUB Coop and we then put the time and effort required into turning them into something new and useful for the community. We’re doing our part to help close the loop on clothing waste in a world where the fashion and textiles industry contributes towards a shocking 10% of global carbon emissions, projects like this are an important step towards reducing textile waste and highlighting the vast amount of clothing already available in the world that’s just waiting to get a new lease of life.

There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to get these clothes from the donation pile back into circulation, and this is where our volunteers come in to put the care and dedication required into successfully diverting perfectly good textiles from landfill. First, the donated clothes were moved to SHRUB Coop for repairs and patching by cargo bike. “Basically, it was a huge amount of stuff - two trips with bike and trailer fully loaded up”, remarked Rosanna, one of the volunteers who dedicated time to managing and upcycling the donations.

After two bike trips, the volunteers got to work filling 8 very-large bags with patched, mended and upcycled ex-uniforms.

The donations included 1 bag of warm fleeces and overalls, which volunteers worked on quickly to mend, patch and distribute just before Christmas during a particularly cold snap to ensure these items were donated when they were needed most.

Through projects like this, we have been able to not only contribute towards sustainable practices but to give crucial help to community members.

The team worked hard to sort, mend, repurpose and restore as many of the clothing items as possible, some of which were brand new and ready to be put to good use. Items had to be sorted and assessed for repairs - and volunteers worked hard to make sure as little was wasted as possible. The donations also included two bags of brand-new, warm puffer gilets which our volunteers got ready for distribution by covering logos with some lovely patches and pockets.

There were also 3 bags of jackets, 1 bag of sweatshirts and t-shirts, and 1 bag of around 30 polo shirts, some of which required repairs such as broken zips and worn-down collars, and upcycled patches to cover the original branding.

The circular nature of the project didn’t stop with just mending and re-purposing the ex-uniforms. “I put patches on 15 polo shirts, most of which were new and unused. The fabric with the tulip design was reused from a Stitches for Survival banner which had got damaged and the dye had run.”, said Mary, a SHRUB sewing volunteer who worked on the project. The patches came from previously used and repurposed fabric, and zips were also re-used rather than buying new ones unnecessarily.

“I did two zip replacements, one rather quirky in a fleece and the other a jacket which now has one zip instead of two as I used the inner one to replace the broken outer one. Fiddly work, but zips are expensive” – Mary

Through SHRUB Coop, the mended, restored and upcycled uniforms were distributed around Edinburgh. 2 bags went to the community centre, where warmer clothing such as the fleeces and overalls are particularly needed during the colder months that can make life extremely difficult for those sleeping rough or struggling to afford warm clothing. The remaining bags went to the Edinburgh mission bank and a couple more bags were up for sale in our Swapshop on Bread Street.

Projects such as this require the help of a dedicated team, but this can lead to important changes in our societal outlook on pre-loved clothing and its potential to be repaired, repurposed and re-distributed.

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By Shannon Finnan


January 2021: New year, new city, new me - I’m going waste free

3 months later: I burnt out

I ventured into my zero waste journey with images of pretty pantries and watching TED talks with women holding old fashioned mason jars of their rubbish. The impact my rubbish was having on the world startled me but here was a way for me to solve it.

On day 2 I faced my first question when the post hit the floor. What was I supposed to do with the envelope? Its little plastic window peered out at me almost mockingly. I’m pretty sure I never saw an envelope in any of those mason jars.

From there, the questions kept coming:

  • Can I get packaging free biscuits? If not, what do I dunk in my tea?

  • What about when I fancy a bag of crisps?

  • Where do I refill my wine bottles?

My 3 months with a completely empty rubbish bin was helped along greatly by the time period we were in. In early 2021 the world had a stillness for me. Lockdowns and low contact living was still prominent. A blissful time when the world was done with excessive zoom socials but we weren’t ready to return to in person events. It lent the time to go to multiple shops, scratch cooking and googling “how to….” multiple times a day.

Then, as time ticked on, we started to resemble some form of normality. Takeaways and quick meals returned. Social outings vied for my time. Sure there are ways to make it work in a busy schedule, but most of these options come with a price tag. Buying our dry food (pasta, rice, spices, beans etc) package free isn’t that different in price to our normal shop. However, our fresh food (bread, veg, oat milk) had an impact on the pocket, and my time. I now had to plan a chunk of my week around buying plastic free peppers from the green grocer across town rather than nipping down to the local Tesco express. When I started heading on weekend trips, staying zero waste was more and more challenging. Low waste living is an exercise in being prepared. I didn’t do girl scouts, and my mum packed my school lunch box. This is not something I’m good at!

To be honest I became exhausted by it all. The space was geared towards perfection and I was falling well short. During a period of fatigue, I stumbled into the Zero Waste Hub. Over the following weeks my outlook started to dramatically shift - no they didn’t pay me to write that.

As obvious as it seems now, I realised I was caught up in the aesthetic of waste free living. My mindset was less to do with redesigning the system and more to do with a lifestyle brand.

I started to look at zero waste living in the context of community. Rather than fretting over the plastic that came with rescued food, I began to see the bigger picture. Zero waste living can not be addressed as a singular issue. It requires a community.

I recognised that my personal actions are important. I can dramatically reduce my waste with little or no exertion on my part without feeling guilty about not doing it perfectly. Even more so, my personal actions have a larger impact when it’s focused on the community. Pushing to change a broken system, while beginning to build an alternative.

My story continues, more sustainable than it started.

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Short Story from the October Waste Stories Workshop

This fictional story was written as part of a Waste Stories writing workshop. The aim was to write a story in 30 minutes based on found objects and waste. Waste Stories is a project that uses the affective power of story-telling to try to change people’s relationships with waste and the resources that end up in the waste stream.

That’s a bit odd, by Heloisa Fyfe

Sometime after my mum passed away we decided to clear the garden of

what my dad would call ‘unacceptable kitsch and bad taste’. A bit harsh, but

he’s got a point. My mum had all these animal sculptures and a garden

gnome placed neatly around the garden. You wouldn’t think much of these

things but they meant a lot to her. She purposefully used them as a symbolic

rejection of her past. You see, my mum didn’t like her life growing up, whether

it was her two parents, the six girls who bullied her at school, or the twelve

mean chickens on her grandma’s farm that would chase her and peck her

legs. It wasn’t just that. When she turned eighteen she accidentally dropped a

knife and lost a toe, only leaving her with four on one foot. Of the eight

boyfriends she’d had, six broke up with her, one died and with the last one

she got married. So how is this related to the garden kitsch? Well, once my

mum turned twenty-three and had moved out of her family home she made a

decision to live her life in complete opposition to when she was younger.

According to her, there was a recurrent pattern in her unhappiness, everything

bad that ever happened to her came in even numbers. Whether it was the

chickens, the boyfriends, or the toes. So she made a point of imposing only

odd numbers to the rest of her life. That, she knew, would make her happy

because at least it was her choice. This is why I’m an only child. My parents

married in 1993, they had me in 1999 and our house is number 27. When we

went to the supermarket we would buy an odd number of products. If we went

to the doctor we had to only have one issue or three, but you could never

have an even number of ailments. It was bad luck, she said. You may call this

superstition but life really had become wonderful for her once she had

banished the even numbers from her past. She was finally free. The garden

was where she spent most of her last days, and all the animal statues had

odd numbers associated with them. She broke the ear off one of the rabbits,

the bird had thirty-one ceramic feathers. There was also a little solar-powered

Ikea fountain, the user manual had this metal binder with twenty-four spirals

so she ripped it out. No need for such a thing in the house, she said. I miss

my mum, now it’s just the two of us, me and my dad. Bad luck.

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