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What I learned working a day at Hazlehead Recycling Centre’s Reuse Shop

The Reuse Shop is an Aladdin's Cave tucked away in the Hazlehead Recycling Centre, and what I learned there was quite surprising.

I spent a day helping out at the Reuse Shop at Hazlehead Recycling Centre.
Images: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
I spent a day helping out at the Reuse Shop at Hazlehead Recycling Centre. Images: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Who would have thought that more than 22,000 items once destined for a skip in the Hazlehead recycling centre could instead be given a second life?

That’s exactly what happens at the Reuse Shop, tucked away at the back of the Hazlehead Recycling Centre.

Helpful site operators will ask what people are bringing into the recycling centre, and if they see anything that looks too good to throw away they will instead ask if the item could go to the shop instead.

Lisa Anderson and Scott Robertson hard at work organising the stock room. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

The recycling centre reopened after the festive break on Tuesday, and I thought this week would be one of the busiest periods — particularly with people clearing up after Christmas or doing a new year clearout.

On Wednesday, I spent some time at the Reuse Shop to find out how “one man’s trash” is transformed into “another man’s treasure”.

The first thing I learned — the Reuse Shop is an Aladdin’s Cave… where you can even find an Xbox

A steady flow of cars were making their way around the centre as I was getting shown to the Reuse Shop.

One had stopped outside and a teen was standing at the boot of his car holding out an Xbox One.

He stressed: “It works perfectly fine, I just have a new one now.”

You never know what you can find. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

I often think of charity shops as little treasure troves, you never know what you might find buried in amongst the bric-a-brac.

Well, the Reuse Shop is quite simply an unlikely Aladdin’s Cave tucked away in the recycling centre.

When I was first being shown around, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff.

Outside, there were piles of golf clubs propped up against the shop side. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Outside, there were piles of golf clubs propped up against the shop side while there was a whole rack filled with bikes of all shapes and sizes and even a few sleds that had recently been dropped off.

There was also a broken bench, with the blue paint chipped away. But, I was assured it was being kept for a reason, that someone would want it for something… I’ll come back to this bench later.

The broken blue bench most people had doubts over. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Inside the shelves were stocked with all sorts of goodies, from brand-new boxed kettles, to coffee machines, crockery, pans, and glassware.

There were ornaments, books, games, toys and clothes as well as some interesting pieces of furniture.

Basically, the shop had everything.

Trombones, vintage ship lanterns and general bric-a-brac all find their way into the Reuse Shop

Mandy Reid has worked in the shop since it first opened, and has over 20 years of experience working in charity shops. With her expert eye, she can quickly scan items and tell if it’s something someone out there would buy again.

I helped put away items and had the chance to sort through some of the stuff that was dropped off. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Soon enough, I was getting stuck in and helping Mandy take items from the boots of cars either straight into the shop or to the stock room.

She told me it was quite quiet, which I found quite surprising considering the constant flow of cars dropping things off.

If this was quiet, what’s a busy day like?

The shelves were full of wonderful little treasures. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

As Mandy priced some pretty pieces of jewellery we got chatting about the shop.

Although they mostly get bric-a-brac, kitchen wares, and smaller pieces of furniture, they do find some unique and vintage items and other things like smart TVs which sell quickly.

They have also had more unusual items like trombones, organs and even a vintage ship lantern.

She said with a kind smile: “I think people like to come into these shops because you just never know what you’re going to find.

“You might find a gem, and you might find a one-off vintage piece that you’re just not going to get on the high street.

“I think that’s the beauty of these shops.”

A tunnel has been added onto the back of the shop to extend it even more. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Reuse Shop has regular bargain hunters

I suppose, being just after Christmas I had expected more people to be in dropping things off. Whether it might be unwanted Christmas gifts or people having just finished a massive clearout for the New Year.

And while there were quite a few people dropping things off (including bikes, kids scooters and that XBox One), I was surprised to find there were more people in looking to buy.

Another car making a drop off. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

A little boy went off with a massive smile on his face after his mum bought him a little red bike, while another woman walked around with a huge pile of t-shirts hanging over her arm.

The shop was never empty for long, there always seemed to be someone looking around the offering, hoping to find a hidden gem or a regular customer popping in past to say hello.

‘People put things to the skip just because they want rid of it, and it’s just such a waste’

One such customer is Valerie Willemars, who says she comes in past the shop two or three times a week.

Lisa Anderson with regular customer Valerie Willemars. Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson.

She had discovered the shop one time when they were coming to drop something off at the recycling centre and realised there were “a lot of good bargains”.

Pointing at the immaculate black, heeled boots she’s wearing, Valerie tells me she bought the shoes from the Reuse Shop for £4.50.

“I think it’s a really great idea, because people put things to the skip just because they want rid of it, and it’s just such a waste,” she said.

“We bought a bike here for £20 and I think we sold it on for £220,” she laughed almost in disbelief.

“We mostly buy stuff for ourselves, but we got the bike for our grandson and it was far too big for him so I thought I’d just sell it.”

Valerie bought one of the sleds when she was in, too. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Some customers make money from the treasures they find

Mandy and Lisa tell me they have some regular customers who come in to find vintage items or clothes to sell.

And Colin Duguid is no different. He buys bikes from the Reuse Shop to fix them up and sell them on again.

Some of the bikes on offfer. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

He had stopped by to get another bike and have a quick look around the shop.

Colin told me he has four properties across the city that he rents and often finds things for them in the shop, and he had found a rug just the day before.

He was also the lucky buyer of the vintage ship lantern Mandy was telling me about earlier.

Colin Duguid mostly comes in to look at the bikes. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Colin, who has a trader’s licence and is qualified to fix up the bikes, was even once lucky enough to find an electric bike for sale at the shop.

“A lot of people have got the second-hand mindset of it’s all rubbish, but it’s really good quality,” he said.

Other people manage to upcycle things from the Reuse Shop

“I sold the bench!” Mandy Reid excitedly exclaims as she walks back into the Reuse Shop.

We were all in disbelief someone bought the blue paint-chipped bench that was falling apart. But sure enough, a regular customer had bought the broken bench for a fiver and planned to fix it up himself.

Robert Cullie is another regular face at the Reuse Shop and thinks the bench is salvageable because the wood is still good.

Robert with his new blue bench. Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson

The pensioner has a caravan in Stonehaven and often buys benches and other garden ornaments for the site.

As well as finding bargains, and some things he can upcycle himself, Robert also drops off items at the shop he no longer needs.

His face broke into a wide smile when he saw a sled shaped as a penguin and told me it would look good at the caravan site so put it to one side.

“It’s one of the best places in Aberdeen,” he said firmly. “The stuff people put away is just unbelievable.

“I’ve bought two bikes, one for my daughter and one for myself. I can’t believe what people throw away.

“Some of the benches that come in don’t even need repairing, but I repaired the last one and I’ll maybe do something with this one.”

The Reuse Shop was given an old piano, and although it doesn’t work Colin Forshaw believes someone will take it for a project. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

People come in for ‘different reasons’ and learning new skills

Lisa has been working at the shop for six months, and like me, she is “amazed” at the amount of stuff they get in, that was otherwise destined to be wasted.

Lisa Anderson says she is “amazed” at the amount of stuff people get rid of. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

It was her first Christmas at the Reuse Shop, and she said in the run-up to the big day they had so many Christmas trees and decorations dropped off that they now have enough to fill the shop this December.

Lisa also does a lot of upcycling at home now, trying to use things instead of just throwing them out and is inspired by some of the regulars who come in.

“There’s always people in for different reasons,” she explained.

Mechanics are often looking for “bits and bobs”, and there’s a retired art teacher who comes in to buy old frames to take to a voluntary class she teaches.

She admitted with a laugh: “I did not expect the bench to sell, because it was really damaged, but no, the guy has bought it.

“It’s a case of me learning as well.”

Almost six and a half double-deckers saved from recycling or landfill at Hazlehead

Suez is a waste management company, contracted by Aberdeen City Council to run the city recycling centres.

The Reuse Shop was created by Suez, with the support from the Scottish Government’s Recycling Improvement Fund, to stop good quality items from ending up being recycled or put in landfill.

The paint and DIY store is a hit with customers, especially in the summer months. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Between January 2023 and December 28, more than 23,600 items were sold in the shop.

That equates to 77.25 tonnes of materials being diverted from recycling or landfill and being sold on instead.

If you want to visualise the amount, it’s almost six and a half double-decker buses worth of items saved from the skips.

Additionally, 701kg of paint that otherwise was destined to be wasted has been used, free of charge, since the DIY store opened up. That’s around 165 tins of paint.

Colin Forshaw, production operations manager at Suez, hopes to build on the success this year.

Colin Forshaw, production operations manager at Suez. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

He said: “The service is designed to wash its own face, it’s designed to be self-sufficient in terms of funding and the sales are showing that.

“We’ve been able to take on two and a half full-time roles so far and we plan to expand that in the next wee while as well.

“And to keep on getting more materials coming through the shop to divert them away from recycling and disposal, and that’s what the shop is aiming to do.

“It’s absolutely a success, and the challenge for me and the team is to make it more successful in 2024.”

Want to know more?

The Reuse Shop is open seven days a week, between 10am and 4pm in the winter months. 

You can find the shop on Facebook and see some of the treasures they have in stock online here.