The story of the Shrub

Every September, freshers at the University of Edinburgh can collect, for free, all the stuff left behind by previous graduate students. This project, and the cooperative behind it, shows the crucial role of young people in fighting climate change.

Several years, a group of students at the University of Edinburgh noticed that when students moved out of halls of residence, they would often leave behind items which they could not carry or felt no use for anymore. All of this used to end up in the bin, headed for landfill. A few months later, new students would buy new materials which would end up in the bin at the end of the year.

Shocked at the waste and determined to stop the cycle, these students decided to act. They came together and at the end of the academic year collected this so-called “waste”, stored it over the summer, and redistributed it through hosting a ‘free shop’ at the beginning of the new student term.

Quickly, The September free shop was recognised as a great success, with nearly everything that had been stored being reclaimed by new students. After two years, 12 tonnes of stuff had already been saved from landfill.

The Freshers Free Shop in 2016

Inspired by the considerable impact of this simple action, students decided to expand it. In 2013, they funded the Swap and Reuse Hub (Shrub), a cooperative whose goal would be to encourage sustainable actions all year long. Not only would it hold the collected waste and provide a permanent free shop throughout the year, it would also grow well beyond its initial intention.

The Shrub has now 330 members, 200 volunteers and 6 part time members of staff. It holds a swap shop four times a week, where people can exchange what they don’t need for what they do need. At the same time, the organisation tackles food waste through its Food Sharing network, which redistributes unused food from businesses to the local community and facilitates one to one food sharing between local residents.

Volunteers and participants at the Wee Spoke Hub

As well as intercepting resources, the Shrub organises workshops that explore creative reuse and encourages people to act. Two times a week, The Wee spoke Hub sees trained volunteers help people to fix their own bike for free.

The organisation also hosts many events and movies in order to raise awareness on issues of sustainability and social justice.

“There is no waste, only resources in the wrong place” best describes the Shrub’s ethos. Three years after its creation, the student-led cooperative has become a leading hub for creative reuse in Edinburgh, promoting a wide range of actions toward a circular economy. The success of this initiative is yet another proof of the crucial role of young people in fighting climate change.

Leopold Salzenstein and Friends at the Shrub Co-op