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Once an industrial powerhouse, Sweden’s third city has pivoted to become one of the world’s leading eco-cities. Meet the people behind five initiatives contributing towards Malmö becoming climate-neutral by 2020.

SORGENFRI

An underground movement is taking place in Malmö today — quite literally. When residents of the fast-changing neighbourhood of Sorgenfri get rid of their household waste, they take it down to the courtyard and put it into various bins. Recycling being second nature in Sweden, they will already have sorted it into food waste, paper, metal, coloured glass and so on.

So far, so predictable. But here’s what makes the Sorgenfri system different. Each bin sits above a subterranean container that can hold up to three cubic metres of waste. And every fortnight a truck shows up, lifts each container out of the ground and collects the waste.

A Va Syd waste truck extracts recyclables from innovative underground bins – residents sort their rubbish into eight different categories

VA SYD’s solution was to put them underground. Doing that also promotes social cohesion. Instead of leaving rubbish outside their back door or dropping it down a chute, residents of Sorgenfri have to take it down to the courtyard. The idea, says Bissmont, is to bring residents together more often. “You meet people, you say hello, in the living square,” she says.

Located in the city’s former industrial heartland, it’s one of the city’s most exciting sustainable development projects. Comprising nine city blocks and 38 buildings, Sorgenfri is being developed into a high-density “downtown district”. According to Bissmont, it’s now a “very dense and modern” neighbourhood, whose narrow streets are unsuitable for trucks and traditional waste containers.

It’s one of the city’s most exciting sustainable development projects

VA SYD’s solution was to put them underground. Doing that also promotes social cohesion. Instead of leaving rubbish outside their back door or dropping it down a chute, residents of Sorgenfri have to take it down to the courtyard. The idea, says Bissmont, is to bring residents together more often. “You meet people, you say hello, in the living square,” she says.

Among VA SYD’s other achievements is its food-waste project. The company collects food waste from businesses and households and transports it for conversion into biogas, which fuels Malmö’s buses. The pilot project happened in Augustenborg — Malmö’s “eco city”. It boasts many sustainability initiatives such as a stormwater drainage system, urban farming and renewable energy sources.

THE UPCYCLE COLLECTIVE

Augustenborg resident Erika Jacobs Lord co-founded The Upcycle Collective — a group of artists and designers who specialise in “upcycling” — taking a material, reusing it in a creative way and improving its value.

“Recycling is about going down the value chain,” Jacobs Lord explains.
“Turning plastic bottles into fabric, say, costs something.

Upcycle Collective founders Erika Jacobs Lord and Rebecca Edwards outside their shop in Augustenborg

The Greenhouse apartment complex, where Erika Jacobs Lord lives, boasts a rooftop garden and solar panels

Rebecca Edwards wearing earrings she made using recycled elastic bands

Upcycling has much less of a cost.” Examples abound at Upcycle Collective’s Augustenborg studio: pieces of a gymnasium floor that have been turned into a side table; pom-pom earrings made of old lace.

“I upcycle a lot of old jewellery,” says Upcycle Collective co-founder’s Rebecca Edwards. “I’ll take an old necklace and make it into seven pairs of earrings. That’s very simply giving it a higher value and a new lease of life.” The duo launched Upcycle Collective in August 2017 and often hold workshops. “We like the fact that we’re teaching people skills,” says Jacobs Lord.

GRAM

Rowan Drury also wants to make it easier to do the right thing — in her case, offering groceries without unnecessary packaging. “I was trying to shop more sustainably but found it very frustrating when it came to buying food,” she says.

Rowan Drury dispenses food into a jar at her packaging-free shop Gram – the first of its kind in Sweden

“You can buy second-hand clothing, but you have to eat and I felt there was very little choice when it came to food, and lots of unnecessary packaging in supermarkets.” So Drury opened Gram, Sweden’s first package-free shop. Customers fill their own containers with goods stored in glass dispensers, such as spices, flours and oats, and pay by weight — hence the shop’s name.

Gram also sells local products like fruit and vegetables from farms in Skåne, honey harvested from hives on Malmö’s rooftops, and kombucha, the tangy drink made with fermented sweet tea. “I love that there’s a great support system in the city, especially in the food community,” Drury says. “It’s a very proud city. There’s a great sense of pride and support from the city.”

ODLA I STAN

Production of local honey is the brainchild of Göran Larsson. He founded a social enterprise called Odla i Stan (Growing in the City). Its mission is to enable sustainable urban development by encouraging people to grow their own food.

Since 2009, Larsson has worked with municipalities, housing associations and residents of two of Malmö’s most socially vulnerable and challenged neighbourhoods — Seved and Rosengård — to explore ways of growing food. Urban agriculture is one method. Walls of edible plants are another. Beekeeping is a third.

The problem with beekeeping is that bees sting

In Rosengård, where many residents are immigrants, Larsson says his organisation’s work is very popular. “Lots of kids and adults grow where they live, and we’re looking to help people and raise themselves up,” he says. Growing food in the city, Larsson believes, should be accessible, easy and fun. “Fun is important,” he smiles.

Three times a year, Larsson and his assistant Paulina harvest honey from 12 hives in Malmö — including half a dozen on the rooftop of a residential building in Dalaplan. The honey, which has a floral taste, is sold at farmers’ markets and shops like Gram.

One of Odla I Stan’s 12 urban beehives which are dotted around Malmö and provide honey to Gram and farmers’ markets

Göran Larsson wears protective clothing while harvesting honey on a rooftop in the Dalaplan neightbourhood of Malmö

The Insect Hotel is a walled habitat for insects and edible flowers in Seved – one of Malmö’s more challenged neighbourhoods

Despite the challenges (“the problem with beekeeping is that bees sting,” Larsson laughs) several locals have developed a taste for it. “We’ve inspired four or five people to start beekeeping and we’re also selling the honey to many immigrants,” Larsson says.

LOS PERROS

Buddha Browett and Sofia Reuterving are at the vanguard of local food production, too. The couple run Los Perros — one of a handful of small-scale farms within Malmö city limits.

They rent it from an organisation called Stadsbruk, which finds plots of unused land for farmers — in their case, a field owned by a church in Rosengård. Four years on, Los Perros covers about 2,600 square metres — or two-thirds the size of a football pitch.

We want to raise awareness of how much you can grow in a city

Browett and Reuterving grow a mix of traditional crops — turnips, courgettes, kale, beets — plus experimental ones like chilli peppers. “I try to grow them and get heartbroken every year,” says Browett.

They adhere to the holistic principles of permaculture, only use hand tools and organic seeds and fertilise the soil using a compost produced from tree trimmings. When they deliver to restaurants — clients include Lyran and Riket — they use a bicycle.

Buddha Browett picks radishes at the Los Perros urban farm he runs with wife Sofia Reuterving

Tending to a crop of squashes in the Rosengård neighbourhood on the outskirts of Malmö

Sofia takes in the scent of freshly picked rosemary destined for a local restaurant

The couple got into urban farming after moving to Malmö from Barcelona. Step one was getting an allotment, says Browett, who is a trained chef. “When I was in the kitchen, we were like, ‘Why are we getting this from Holland? Why are these radishes from Spain?’,” he explains. “Everything was coming from anywhere but Sweden. It was crazy.”

They began urban farming and haven’t looked back. “We’re outside and get to meet cool people who share our ideas,” Browett says. “We wouldn’t get that if we were just pulling up carrots and putting them on a truck.” Despite the frustrating weather — constant rain last summer, lack of rain this summer — they won’t give up. “We want to raise awareness of how much you can grow in a city,” says Browett. “And we don’t want to do anything else.”


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