Turning trash into treasure: Brockley shop re-purposes London’s plastic waste

Charlie Rudkin-Wilson, founder of Müll with her dog, Fuggle. Pic: Charlie Rudkin-Wilson

A small side street shop in Brockley demonstrates how it is possible to turn someone’s trash into treasure without going through massive industrial recycling plants or vast vats of molten plastic.

When the pandemic hit, Charlie Rudkin-Wilson who had run a sustainability consulting business found herself “jobless and with nothing to do.” She started working small jobs to keep afloat, from delivering organic vegetables for Lee Greens to recycling waste from the streets.

She opened Müll on Harefield Road, where she recycles plastic waste redesigning it into sustainable products like combs, soap dishes and coasters. Very aptly named, the word ‘Müll’ is the German word for rubbish.

Müll collects Type 2 (HDPE) & 5 (PP) plastic that’s mostly from bottle caps to dish-washing detergent containers, and food containers. The plastic is shredded and sorted, before going into the melting and moulding process to make Müll’s sustainable products for sale.

Rudkin-Wilson spoke about the biggest challenge of promoting a zero-waste lifestyle is that “not enough people have made the transition” from shopping at big retail outlets.

“There’s not enough discussion about it. The media is generally run by big businesses and it’s all capitalism. Everybody owns a part of something, and I think the focus hasn’t been on minimizing waste because the big brands don’t have that infrastructure and so the money isn’t going towards that,” said Rudkin-Wilson.

She urges the need for the media’s support in telling accurate stories about the climate, saying: “Corruption around the environment and the climate crisis is probably where it all stems from because if there was enough messaging, then enough people would make the transition.”

When asked about the correlation between the costs of eco-friendly products and the cost-of-living crisis that we’re in, Rudkin-Wilson debunked the two myths about zero-waste living being expensive and the unfamiliarity of refill shops.

“If you can get eco products from, say the larger retail chains, that’s actually more expensive than coming to refill with us,” said Rudkin Wilson. “It doesn’t have to be more expensive!”

Inside the Müll store in Brockley. Pic: Charmaine Wong

Müll also provides refill services for daily essentials like dish-washing detergent, body wash, shampoo and more. Supposedly to change shopping forever by minimising plastic waste ending up in a landfill or incinerator, refill stores however has not been a popular consumer choice.  

“I think sometimes people don’t want to make the step to come in ’cause it’s a different way of shopping. I think people don’t want to…ask the wrong questions but there’s no wrong answer,” said Rudkin-Wilson on refill shops being unfamiliar territory.

“It doesn’t matter if you make a mess on your first refill. I make a mess every day. I think I’ve made 3 spillages already today, and that doesn’t matter but I think people are concerned about that,” said Rudkin-Wilson.

Refill stations for shampoo, body wash, dish-washing detergent etc. Pic: Charmaine Wong

Lewisham council was the first borough to declare a climate emergency in 2019. After three years and a pandemic, the lack of local support has made Rudkin-Wilson deem it as “nothing more than a PR stunt.”

Rudkin-Wilson, a long-term Lewisham resident who lives close to her shop, recently had to fundraise £10,600 to keep her eco business alive, said: “If people really thought we were in an emergency and act like it was …we’d be in a totally different world.”

Recycling is not a new concept, but “a new form of activism” according to Rudkin-Wilson who still finds hope in the younger generation and fellow small businesses in the industry. Müll recently started to collect used yoghurt pots from local wine and spirits shop, Salthouse Bottles to be recycled and redesigned into combs.

She said: “I hope that the recycling business can look after each other whilst we get through this crisis.”

Lewisham Council did not respond to a request for comment in response to the criticisms.

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