Citizens' city

Circular economy inside a shopping mall

A whole mall full of merchandise and services utilizing recycled materials? How about a chain of recycling malls? A pilot in Helsinki is testing this idea in practice.


The idea sounds weird but on second thoughts extremely interesting: a whole mall selling only recycled material – clothes, shoes, furniture. And offering services that keep those things alive longer.

This idea is already real in the Swedish city Eskilstuna. The Finns have decided to develop the concept of a recycling mall even further which in practice means for example scaling.

After a pilot and it’s experiences the concept will be scaled and spread around Helsinki area and finally, hopefully, the whole country.

Ready steady go, we are ready! Mikko Veijola, Johanna Kohvalla, Inga Heikkilä, Timo Alanen of Kierrätyskeskus, Soile-Maria Linnemäki and Miina Isoranta wait for the doors to open. Isoranta is doing a study of the process of the pilot.

The pilot of a recycling mall is about to start inside a shopping mall in Helsinki’s Kalasatama.

– For the pilot we wanted to find a place that is well known and used by large amount of consumers. Redi shopping mall in Kalasatama Helsinki is a perfect place to start with. We need to have a place that appeals also to recycling businesses. The location is very important, tells Johanna Kohvakka, Project Manager.

She works in Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre, Kierrätyskeskus, which provides an alternative to single-use culture. At Kierrätyskeskus stores consumers can shop usable second hand items.

The new recycling mall aims to be much more than the stores that already exist. Wouldn’t it be perfect if consumers were able to find just about everything they need for their homes at a recycling mall? An important part of these malls would be services like what cobblers, dressmakers and carpenters can produce.

Circular economy in practice

– Before building our own recycle mall concept we need to collect data from the pilot in Redi. Our intention is to make the ABC of the project so that scaling would become easier, says Kohvakka.

Recycling malls could build a whole ecosystem of circular businesses.

– We encourage people to spread circular economy, invent new recycled products and find new customers for them during our pilot.

One idea of the pilot is to find out how the co-operation between different companies works. What are the obstacles and what is needed to make the co-operation work well and accelerate circular economy?

The recycling mall could offer business opportunities for example to companies aspiring to repair things and find new ways to use recycled materials.

In Sweden’s Eskilstuna consumers can bring things they don’t need anymore to the recycling mall. Employers check the condition of them and decide whether they need to be mended or if they are ready for a second round. That idea could be tested in the pilot as well.

But there are many questions left: How much space will this kind of a mall need in order to be attractive for the consumers? Who should own the space later on and what is needed from the companies joining the mall?

– We need to decide the criteria of the product groups and services that would fit the idea. For example completely new clothes don’t belong to the recycling mall but if they are made of recycled materials they could be accepted, Kohvakka says.

She tells that the criteria will be planned during the pilot. 

– We don’t want to see any green wash inside these malls. The consumers coming into the recycling malls need to know that what ever they decide to buy here are good choices.

It should also be possible to rent things instead of buying. For example stores that rent clothes, also new ones, or tools suit for this purpose well indeed.

Workshops for the customers

Kohvakka tells about a survey for the pilot in which the consumers had a chance to tell their wishes.

– Some people wanted a have a place where they could mend their things themselves.

Kohvakka likes that idea. These workshops could have handy experts to give advice. People also mentioned areas to hang out without obligation to buy something.

A sustainable food system was on the wish list as well with the mention of waste food cafes and restaurants.

The consumers decide

According to Kohvakka, Helsinki area is an excellent place for a pilot due to large amount of consumers and the awareness of sustainability. What happens after the pilot?

The pilot should give data to develop recycling malls further. Next step will be a larger mall in its’ own building. A suitable place could be for example around Koskela rail pits in Helsinki.

The consumers have much to say. If they like this idea and show it, we may see a whole chain of them perhaps in a near future. And many of them could be located inside “normal” shopping malls, places where consumers visit anyhow.

Ecosystem for new innovations

One of the companies waiting for the recycling mall to start is Vaatepuu. Soile-Maria Linnemäki, the CEO of Vaatepuu says that this pilot is a perfect for her company.

In Vaatepuu stores consumers can rent quality clothes. The company has also web service but according to Linnemäki it needs stores where consumers can try clothes and different styles. And get personal service.

Vaatepuu has stores in Helsinki, Järvenpää, Turku and pretty soon in Heinola as well.

Soile-Maria Linnemäki and Johanna Kohvakka met in Redi where the recycling mall’s pilot is about to start.

Linnemäki says she got very excited after the news of the pilot in Helsinki area.

– The concept was familiar to me, I knew the Swedish mall. I had thought we should have one here as well. But who would take the risk and take the first steps? I am so happy about the opportunity to get involved. And to have an expert like Johanna to coordinate the pilot.

Linnemäki’s and her company’s mission is to change the ways of consumption.

– I know I can’t do that by myself. We need small and big companies working together and change the idea of consumption step by step.

Linnemäki sees this kind of a pilot and the recycling mall as an ecosystem where ideas flourish and new innovations can be tested. She hopes sooner or later to see a chain of recycling malls all over the country.

– It would help Vaatepuu to go into new cities. I’m sure many other companies agree with me. Together we’ll have the synergy which helps expanding our businesses.

Inga Heikkilä and Mikko Veijola of Taitonetti and Soile-Maria Linnemäki of Vaatepuu wait for the recycling mall in Redi to open.

Mikko Veijola and Inga Heikkilä from Taitonetti, a company that refurbishes used computers, agree. They are willing to join the ecosystem, waiting for the pilot to start in earnest.

– We are especially interested in the Koskela rail pits recycling mall, Veijola says.

Veijola is the CEO of Taitonetti. Incidentally, his cousin is in charge of Eskilstuna’s recycling shopping mall.

– The concept is very familiar to me.

Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council and The European Regional Development Fund have funded the pilot.

Read more:

Kierrätyskeskus – official website

More information about the ecosystem and the project (in Finnish)

Image credit: Jari Peltoniemi (featured image), Ilkka Ranta-aho (other images)

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