The magical world of waste

Since 2006, SCRAP has been turning anything and everything that businesses throw away into play and art resources.

This means that their first floor warehouse off Kirkstall Road plays host to what must be a unique collection of textiles, buttons,  lenses, test tubes, balls, stencils and many oddities whose origin is at first more difficult to discern; the inside of sticky tapes, springs from inside mattresses, plumbing parts, moulds of torsos and limbs,  and the pattern templates from inside looms. More than 50 local businesses as diverse as Agfa, Harvey Nichols, Lush, Farnells and Farmfoods are all on board and letting SCRAP work magic with their waste.

I was trying to combine this research trip with a bit of gift shopping for three under 5s in the family. But there was something holding me back, and it wasn’t long before I worked out what it was. Faced with the buckets, stands and piles of materials covering every imaginable texture, shape and colour, I kept looking for the one thing I was never going to find – instructions.

After I had asked her one too many times ‘So what should you do with these?’, SCRAP’s Bea told me:

“We want to offer something different to the things parents might buy in a hobby or craft shop, which give a kit and a set of instructions on how to make something. This is just too prescriptive for kids. “

Instead, SCRAP’s staff will try to suggest uses – half make something, or tie a couple of things together but rarely offer a finished article (barring the odd giant giraffe’s head which once held pride of place at a carnival).  Basically, they’ll help the child’s imagination but won’t replace it or limit it with their own ideas.

Mike Wragg, senior lecturer in playwork at Leeds Metropolitan University, came along to explain it all to me:

“It’s like the cardboard box syndrome, when parents are surprised that the child finds more entertainment in packaging than the expensive gift. But if you give kids a load of materials and bits and pieces with no instructions, and then make it clear that they can do what they like with it, you can just sit back and watch as all sorts of magic happens. “

Watching the kids in there told the story. They were all discovering something new, showing their friends and siblings the strange textures, shapes and surprises they were finding in every new tub or pigeon-hole.

It’s not just the kids that are winning. So far this creative use of waste for education, play and arts has three full-time employees and has made sure our landfill tips are 89 tonnes lighter. And demand is growing at such a rate that SCRAP’s biggest challenge is to find premises big enough to contain its potential.

The demand isn’t coming from worthy people looking to buy an ethical alternative to a mainstream product; SCRAP’s 1500-plus members know they’re buying a genuinely creative, different, evolving product at a fraction of the price of a resource specially designed and manufactured for the same purpose (we got enough ribbons, buttons, feathers and all sorts to fill three large boxes for under £20).

So shopping with SCRAP is saving cash for a customer base which is hardly flush in these austere times – schools, child-minders, mental health support workers, students, artists, and families across the city. If SCRAP’s work helps its customers think differently about re-using their own waste, then it could also save the city a fortune in the annually rising landfill tax on waste which we throw in our black bins.

New premises will help to store and sell on more waste from more businesses, and will help SCRAP expand the elements of the business which show great potential. More workshops for community groups, schools, individuals and those working with people who’d benefit from a creative approach to play, like those suffering from dementia. Schools will be able to rent SCRAPsheds, shipping containers full of resources, and take SCRAP packs which are suited to a particular activity or aligned to the curriculum.

SCRAP was perhaps an obvious place to start this blog; with every facet of the business designed to have a positive impact, from the sourcing of its material to the applications of its product. This is exactly the sort of business I think is ‘good for leeds’, but I know you’ll have your own ideas of what that means and I want to explore them on this blog. So pake a look at the first post telling you what goodforleeds is all about, and please get involved.

To find out more about SCRAP go to  follow them on twitter: @scrapleeds or find them on facebook: scrap creative reuse arts project


3 thoughts on “The magical world of waste

  1. This needs to go national. Its fascinating and so ethically correct. And for creative people it opens up a pandoras box of new opportunities that would be hard to match anywhere else… unless you are a skip rat!!

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