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Reuse, recycle and repair: 15 ways to live a greener life in London

London is full of ways to cut down your carbon footprint and use less plastic. Here are 15 of the best

Recycling paper sculpture on pink
Paper sculpture by Michael Trew, photograph by Rob Greig
By Rosemary Waugh |
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Don’t ditch it, stitch it. Or, fix it. Or, give it to someone who can make better use of it than you. That’s the new way of thinking. By this point, you shouldn’t need Greta Thunberg to tell you that now is the time to embrace a more sustainable way of living. When it comes to going green, every little change helps to make a difference, whether that’s embracing charity shops, donating your old stuff to those in need or doing your best to ditch single-use plastic. To get you started, here are some of the ways you can do your bit.

RECOMMENDED: How to build a green city.

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Reuse

Paper sculpture by Michael Trew, photograph by Rob Greig

Play swapsies

Stop with the fast fashion and start swapping clothes at one of the many regular events that happen across the city. From cloth-nappy and baby-togs events at the Islington Ecology Centre to Walk in Wardrobe dates at Treehouse in Clerkenwell, the attitude running through them all is: what’s mine is yours. Hubbub’s Street Store hosts regular pop-ups throughout the city, as does The Clothes Club. But if you really must ditch old threads (because no one wants your worn-through Meat Loaf T-shirt, even for free), take them to a Love Not Landfill clothes bank and they’ll be turned into industrial cleaning cloths.

Get crafty

If ‘Blue Peter’ taught us anything, it’s that an old toilet roll is never just an old toilet roll. Get your craft on by turning old mags into beautiful pics at Collage Club (run across the city) or magic discarded clothes into a colourful rag rug at Covent Garden’s Tea & Crafting. You can even refresh your craft supplies with a sharing party at DIY Space on Sunday August 25  hosted by queer sewing group
Stitch Bi Stitch.

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Shopping, Charity shops

Know the best charity shops

London’s charity shops are true treasure troves, not mansions of mustiness. Sustainability sophisticates should check out designer-label-filled branches such as Mary’s Living & Giving in Primrose Hill (to which Victoria Beckham has apparently donated) or look for bougie workwear in Balham’s British Heart Foundation. If vintage brights are your thing, go to Traid in Brixton. The little ones can get seriously cute new clothes at Fara Kids in Chiswick, which raises funds for excellent causes in Romania.

Shopping, Vintage shops

Gen up on London’s vintage stores

If you’re looking to fulfil your ’50s Marilyn daydream or ’80s shoulder-pad fantasy, give your custom to one of London’s fantastic vintage shops. From the thrift fashion institutions that are Brick Lane’s Beyond Retro or Covent Garden’s Rokit to the lace-filled heaven that is Annie’s in Angel, secondhand is not second best. For psychedelic flamboyance, head to Retromania in Victoria, or get your fix of pastel prettiness at Pennies Vintage in Clerkenwell. Going eco never felt so sexy (or sequinned).

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Don’t buy when you can borrow

At website the Library of Things you’ll find something old, something new, something blue…  And all of it can be borrowed. You can also share with other Londoners at the Walthamstow Toy Library, while the Tower Hamlets Exchange Project runs a fantastic ‘library’ system of children’s toys and equipment for low-income families.

Think green when it comes to plants

Wayward is a fab organisation that rehomes the thousands of plants used in show gardens at the Hampton Court and Chelsea Flower Shows each year, as well as running various other horti-swapsies events. All you need to do is sign up and pick up. If you have excess plants – maybe you got a little carried away with the tomato seeds – participate in a swap organised by London Terrariums.

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News, City Life

Dump single-use plastic (figuratively)

Thanks to a network of drinking fountains springing up across London, it’s never been easier to take your own water bottle, use it and reuse it. Ditto with coffee: many coffee shops (including Pret) offer enticing discounts for bringing your own container. Become Tupperware royalty, taking your own containers to bulk stores and sustainable supermarkets like Zéro in Colliers Wood or BYO in Tooting.

Turn trash into treasure

Forge a new path for your old stuff at Blackhorse in Walthamstow. Running classes in ironwork, woodwork and more, this public-access workshop is the place to get acquainted with hammers, nails, saws and the rest. Soon you’ll be fixing furniture; something you can also learn at the multi-tasking Goodlife Centre in Southwark.

Repair

Tools made of paper on yellow
Paper sculpture by Michael Trew, photograph by Rob Greig

Learn how to mend defunct gadgets

If the blender’s on the blink or the toaster’s bitten the dust, don’t throw it in the trash: fix it! Hackney Fixers runs regular events teaching people to get savvy with a screwdriver and rewire like a pro. Book into a Rosie the Restarter workshop for women or get wired with your mates at a Restart Party. For non-Hackneyites, The Restart Project hosts similar events across the capital and has an online directory to get you connected with other fixers in your area.

Shopping

Become a proper sew-and-sew

There’s nothing more annoying than a loose button or a hole in a favourite shirt. Instead of shouting ‘darn!’ just, um, darn – and patch and stitch and appliqué. The gorgeous Village Haberdashery in West Hampstead has a great changing programme of workshops, while at Fabrications on Broadway Market you can become the master of a sewing machine or acquire upcycling fashion skills. We’ve also got a sleepy eye on the pyjama-making classes at Sew It with Love near Waterloo.

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Use a Repair Café

For all of the above and more, you can also head to one of the many Repair Cafés in north London, where you can learn to mend pretty much anything, including bikes, clothes and household items. Organised by the North London Waste Authority, they aim to reduce rubbish while giving people the chance to very smugly say ‘Oh yeah, I fixed that myself’ to any house guests. From September 2019 to February 2020, find the cafés in Barnet, Camden, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest.

Recycle

An armchair made out of paper
Paper sculpture by Michael Trew, photograph by Rob Greig

Find a new home for old furniture

Rather than dump furniture and household goods each time you get the home-makeover urge, donate them online. Freecycle is but a few clicks away while the Reuse Network is always on the lookout for donations – and they have a great system for seeking out the nearest reuse charity to your home. The British Heart Foundation does home collection and will send you a notification when the item is sold. It’s a lovely feeling knowing your unwanted stuff has helped a great cause.

Art

Be rewarded for recycling

Until January 2020, visitors to Tate Modern can bring along an old T-shirt to recycle and get 20 percent off admission to ‘Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life’. This artsy incentive overlaps with  the Danish-Icelandic artist’s practice, which focuses heavily on sustainability. The best part is that you get to help the environment, save some pennies and play inside a giant kaleidoscope. In a similar year-round initiative, H&M will give you a £5 voucher for every bag of old clothes donated to one of its stores.

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Get someone else on your bike

Website Recycle Your Cycle takes unwanted adult bikes (Dyson and Henry vacuum cleaners too) and sends them to UK prisons where the inmates are trained to fix and refurbish them. The prisoners gain employment skills and the repaired bicycles are sold to raise money for charity. RYC can, however, only pick up 20 bikes or more, so consider arranging a group collection in your community; or contact charity shop chain Sue Ryder, which can collect single bikes for the same project.

Give your unused toiletries to those in need

It’s that special time of the year again and Aunty Barbara just gave you an extra-large mango shower gel from The Body Shop for the third year running – despite the fact you’re allergic to mango. Donate your unused (it’s important that they’re unopened) toiletries and electricals (like hairdryers and shavers) to Beauty Banks, a fabulous online project that passes them on to people who really need them, including those in temporary accommodation and shelters.

Find more ways to live sustainably in London

Things to do

How to build a green city

Know a Londoner running a cool eco project? Tell us at hello@timeout.com. Being greener demands huge changes, but every little helps, so if you are going to the park this weekend, bin your tinnies, lose the disposable barbecue and cutlery, and maybe sign up to one of these awesome schemes helping to keep London’s spaces clean…

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