Interview by Angela from Boston, student of MIT: Condensed Version
A: How did you become interested in promoting re-use?
N: I studied Sociology, Economics and Computer Science (Soziologie, Volkswirtschaftslehre und Informatik) at TU Berlin and was interested in developing a project that raises consciousness about our society’s over-consumption patterns. I read a lot of philosophy (Adorno, Bourdieu) and have always been interested in reducing consumption by re-using as opposed to selling.
A: Could you tell me about Cosum, how it started, its mission, and where you are now?
N: Cosum essentially offers both a digital and physical marketplace (link here https://berlin.cosum.de/) for a free exchange of objects and materials. We started in 2017 with a small shelf-like item designed and built by BauFachFrau using 100% recycled materials. It is relatively small, only 2m*2m. The goal with this object was for people to come and drop used things for potential re-use or pick up objects they wanted for personal consumption.
Not long after, we also began renting a space here at Haus der Materialisierung (HdM) that operates similar to the Cosum-Box, but with the physical presence of myself (or my colleague.)
Herein, we offer the same service of object exchange, albeit at specific opening times, where
people can come and borrow different objects. We have various things, from tents to ironing
boards, all the way to ladders and toolboxes.
As an entirely cost-free service, our goal is really to challenge current social tendencies of
private ownership and individual consumption and foster alternative methods of co-
consumption for wider communities
– Spend time walking around the space and photographing the Cosumbox –
A: That is very special and definitely important today. So is there an educational or
communicative strategy you use to encourage your mission along with the boxes and spaces?
N: As you can see, we have various posters all around the space that showcase some of our most essential values – he points to an inverted triangle with the headings refuse, reduce, re-use, repair, recycle, and compost. We also hope to share this method through person-to-person exchanges in the space, which is why it is so important to have someone in the room during opening hours.
A: I love the posters, and I am intrigued by the communication capabilities of the two services offered by Cosum. Could you speak to the differences between a small, un-supervised boxapproach for object exchange and that of the supervised physical room?
Do you prefer one over the other, and why?
N: I definitely prefer the in-person space. It just works so much more effectively! In many ways, having the box outside is excellent for its 24/7 nature, but it has also presented many
challenges. Many people misuse the box by placing clearly unusable objects/trash in the box or bringing things too big for others to carry home effectively. As “just” a box, it is also hard to
truly establish the educational and social impact that we are trying to push.
These issues are naturally more easily resolved in a closed space. The direct opening hours
enable more direct engagement with the local community and provide greater oversight and
long-term lending of all household objects. As a lending-based operation, its methodology also extends the lifetime of each object further than just from one person to another (as is common in shelves like a Givebox). In its multiple re-uses, an object within our Library of Things has the potential to travel between thousands of individuals and families across Berlin.
A: Yes, I have spent some time in the past week cataloguing a lot of Giveboxes across Berlin and have been noticing the often derelict, abandoned, and repeatedly vandalized nature of many of these objects. In many ways, a workshop feels better. Still, I have doubts about balancing your no-revenue models and the costs associated with renting space and hiring employees for supervision. Could you say more about managing your “Library of Things” and how you sustain yourself financially?
N: Financially, we are supported through a grant provided by the Nationale Klimaschutz
Initiative (National Climate Protection Initiative), which runs from 2019-2022. We use the
budget provided to pay the rent, which is €130/month for a space of 30m 2 .
A: Are you paid to supervise the space? And is it your full-time job?
N: Oh no, it is just a side thing, which I do luckily get paid for. I am a passionate gardener, which is my full-time job most days.
A: Oh lovely, you will have to tell me about that later! And how many customers do you have on average? How many people have borrowed things since you started?
N: I would see we have had roughly 300 people lending and/or borrowing things in the last two years, and approximately 4-10 visitory/day when we are open who come in and pop by to
examine the project.
A: Oh wow, so as of now, it remains a relatively small operation. Have you thought of how
digitalization may be used to reach a broader customer base?
N: Yes, we launched our online platform recently, which has helped catalogue and
communicate the availability of items. Of course, I think it is excellent. However, I do refrain from the click-bait nature that often come with online-digital platforms, as I believe it leads to fast consumption. In reality, our goal is to fight immediate consumption, and slow it down, just as the Slow Food Movement has done in the agricultural sector.
– Spend some time looking at the platform together on his phone
A: Thank you so much for your insights and time. It is great to see such initiatives pushed, and I hope it continues in the future!