Prague swop shop site finds treasure in trash

Photo: official Facebook profile of Zdrojovna

Reuse, reduce, recycle: that’s the main idea behind Zdrojovna at the community centre Klinika in Prague, a space where you can discard used or unwanted objects, such as household utensils or small pieces of furniture, rather than throwing them away. Anyone can come to the shop and take these things for free, or attend a workshop where they can learn how to creatively recycle or renovate the discarded objects.

Photo: official Facebook profile of Zdrojovna
I spoke to one of Zdrojovna’s founders, Blanka Havlíčková, and I first asked her to tell me more about the initial idea behind the project:

“It wasn’t my idea. It was the idea of my colleague, Tereza Klenorová. Once she walked past a scrapyard here in Prague and she saw a beautiful chair. She was a student at the time and she had just moved to a new flat.

“She really wanted to get the chair, but the man from the scrapyard told her that it was the city’s property and it had to be destroyed. And she got really angry, seeing that beautiful things that could be used again are being destroyed.

“She studied in France, where used things usually end up in a re-use centre. So she wrote a status on Facebook, complaining about it, and a friend joined the discussion and they started to work together to change the system. So in the beginning, it was an activist idea, rather than a clear concept.”

So how would you describe the main idea behind the centre? Would you say it is an alternative to a scrap-yard?

“Exactly, the main idea was that if you have something at home you want to throw away but you feel it might be good for someone else but you just don’t know where to put it, you don’t throw it away but you bring it to a re-use centre. So the main idea was to create a re-use centre.”

So what was your next step?

“We tried to get public, so we started to organise workshops to invite people who were interested in the idea, to see how it could work. These were just one-day workshops to inform the people about the concept. And about six months later, we got rooms to establish our re-use centre, but unfortunately the building was brought down after three months and we had to start searching for a new space again.”

“We try to use garbage, and when I say garbage, I mean for instance plastic bottles or old gramophone records, and we try to reuse them.”

You recently found that space, at the community cultural centre Klinika at Prague’s Žižkov.

“That’s right. The advantage of the new space is that we don’t have to pay rent, so everything is be based on a voluntary basis. We don’t have to charge the people for coming. If you want to bring something, you bring it and if you want to take something, you take it. So it makes it easier, because before we had to think about money all the time. We now offer two activities. There is a free-shop, where everything is for free and we also organise the workshops.”

What exactly are these workshops focused on?

“We try to use garbage, and when I say garbage, I mean for instance plastic bottles or old gramophone records, and we try to reuse them. For example you can make really nice earrings or other jewellery from plastic bottles. We also try to renovate old furniture, so that's another skill you can learn there. And the group of teachers who help us to teach the people is always different, so there are always different materials to work with.”

What kind of people take part in your workshop?

“It is usually younger people and young families. I would say it is more women than men. And I would say it is people who are more ecologically aware, who are interested in environmental topics.”

You also told me one of the target groups are students coming to Prague from abroad.

“ Actually now it is great timing to talk about it because lots of Erasmus students, or students starting an internship in Prague are coming and will be staying here usually for three or four months, so we also want to invite them to visit our free-shop.

Photo: official Facebook profile of Zdrojovna
“It is a great place, we have lots of cups and plates, people are bringing lots of kitchen utensils, so they can come and get it for free but they can also bring it back and someone else will use it.”

You launched this free-shop just a few weeks ago. How successful are you in gathering things and what are the things that people tend to get rid of most frequently?

“I would say we have lots and lots of cups and plates. I think people often buy new ones, because they want to have a different colour, so they want to get rid of the old ones. Usually it is someone who is moving to a different place and brings a full car of different things and is happy that the things can be used.

“There are more people who take than those who bring things, but those who donate things often come with a full car, so I think we are currently well balanced.”

But as far as I know people can’t bring anything they want to get rid of.

“Some people offer us for instance things for babies, but we don’t accept that because of hygienic reasons. We are mostly interested in small furniture, because we don’t have enough space for the larger pieces. Also we don't want to offer lots of electronics, because it often needs to be repaired and we don't have anyone on the team who could do it.”

Among the more surprising objects that people keep bringing to your free shop are knitting machines. You have even announced a workshop on working with these machines. What are some of the other more curious objects that you have received so far?

“Sometimes people bring something very artistic, and we find it a little strange. But I think that everything actually has a buyer.”

“Sometimes people bring something very artistic, such as a gold plastic flower or something like that, and we find it a little strange. But then someone comes and says: Wow. Can I take it? So I think that everything actually has a buyer. This artistic stuff may be a little crazy, but we still accept it, because there are obviously people who just want to get it. It is really popular among people.”

You now have a permanent space, but what are your plans for the future?

“The ideal plan would be something like the re-use centres they have in France. That’s a place where you can bring the stuff you don’t want any more, or they can even send a car to take it from your home. They also employ disadvantaged people, such as people with a mental handicap, to help them integrate into society. So this is something we would like to focus on in the future.”

Finally, what is the nearest workshop that we can look forward to?

“It will be on Sunday, October 18, and you can expect about ten different stations where you can learn how to work with plastic bottles, how to renovate your furniture and you can also try working on the knitting machine. So I think there will be something for everyone.”