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This city-run secondhand department store is helping Berlin reduce waste

The city’s B-Warenhaus sits in the middle of a traditional department store.

This city-run secondhand department store is helping Berlin reduce waste
[Photo: © SenUVK]

In a new master plan, Berlin is aiming to become a zero-waste city, shrinking the amount of trash that will go to landfills over the next decade by focusing on key areas like avoiding food waste and single-use packaging. The government plans to increase recycling, including materials used in the construction industry. And it also wants to greatly increase reuse, making it simple for people both to drop off old products—the city estimates that every household in Berlin has nearly 250 unused items at home—and to easily find used products when they’re shopping for replacements.

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So on the third floor of a traditional department store in Berlin, the city government is now running a massive secondhand shop that also holds events to repair products, from electronics to clothes. “For the first time, a [secondhand] store resides inside an established [store],” says Dorothee Winden, deputy press speaker of the city’s department for the environment, transport, and climate. “Reused goods are offered where people do their shopping.”

[Photo: © SenUVK]
The city leased the 7,000-square-foot space, called B-Warenhaus (the name is a pun on the German words for “conserve” and “warehouse”) for six months, and made it available to existing secondhand stores and nonprofits. After the pop-up store closes, “our goal is to establish three to four ‘warehouses of the future,’ as we call them, in Berlin, that will operate permanently,” Winden says. “These warehouses of the future will include a shop, space for workshops and events, repair cafés, and food and beverages.” The food will be made from ingredients that are expired but still edible.

It’s not clear that department stores are necessarily the best venue—as in the U.S., department store chains in Germany have been struggling to survive, though large secondhand stores do exist in other places, like ReTuna, a “recycling mall” in Sweden. Other secondhand models have also recently launched in Germany, including Sellpy, a startup majority-owned by H&M, which picks up products from customers’ homes and then handles the reselling process. And globally, secondhand sales have been growing, especially of clothing. In a GlobalData report earlier this year for ThredUp, an online resale store, analysts projected that online secondhand sales would grow 69% between 2019 and 2021 in the U.S., while the retail sector as a whole may shrink 15%. By 2029, the report projects, the secondhand market may be twice as large as fast fashion.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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