The Sydney institution where you can find just about anything

Kirsten Junor, creative director at Reverse Garbage, is blase about the piles of human teeth casts stacked at the reuse centre’s front entrance.

“I’ve seen everything come in here,” she says. “Titanium hips, bones, I’m never surprised. Although, the day we get a glass eye is the day I quit.”

Kirsten Junor: “The day we get a glass eye is the day I quit.”Credit:Kate Geraghty

Amid the overflowing tubs, racks and shelves of recycled material that supply artists, prop-makers, theatre designers, thrifty types and class project-making schoolchildren, Junor is feeling some emotion and trepidation.

After 46 years at Marrickville’s Addison Road Community Centre, Reverse Garbage is moving to a new home, leaving behind the former army barracks warehouse.

After closing its doors this week, it will reopen in mid-January in a new, fit-for-purpose space on Carrington Road, also in Marrickville, in a district of artists, designers, filmmakers, photographers and theatre companies such as Erth and Branch Nebula.

Transferring the cornucopia of industrial offcuts, art and craft materials, knick-knacks, overruns and odds-and-ends has involved lengthy and careful planning for staff and volunteers.

Rolls of sequinned fabric, taxi roof lights, cardboard tubes, bags of belt buckles, drawers of buttons, bra clips, paint, paper and shoelaces and one cassette tape copy of Glen Campbell Country Volume 2 must all be packed and driven away before Christmas, if not sold beforehand.

Generations of artists, teachers, children and staff have foraged in the aisles. Credit:Kate Geraghty

Junor gets emotional talking about Reverse Garbage’s history and the generations of artists, teachers, children and staff who have foraged in the aisles.

“It’s a Sydney institution and it means so much to so many people,” she says. “We aren’t a specific sort of place, so we welcome everybody. We welcome everything. What makes us unique is the stories, the people who work here, volunteer, donate and shop here.”

One of her favourite stories is of unpacking a donated spool of yarn and finding a Reverse Garbage receipt tucked into it from 1994.

“It was bought with good intentions and it wasn’t thrown in the bin, which is encouraging.”

Junor says reusing materials, and helping to educate about waste, remains crucial, particularly around Christmas. Each year Australians throw away more than 20 million unwanted gifts. Reverse Garbage receives more than 250-tonnes of donated materials from businesses and individuals each year.

“Ultimately, we’d like to go out of business,” she says.“It won’t happen because there are always those waste streams. But the awareness of reuse, of resources and the value of things has changed in the last six years.”

Their education programs and workshops are thriving, workplaces increasingly use the Fill A Bag section for office decorations and the phone rings hot after Vivid and Mardi Gras with people seeking donated props, costumes and parade float trimmings.

“We’re in a unique position in that we benefit from the arts but we also give back to the arts,” Junor says. “Organisations like Opera Australia or Sydney Theatre Company make wonderful things, we take what we can and then we’re able to offer them to artists, theatres and festivals at a cheaper rate. They put their stamp on them, they save money and they’re also being sustainable.”

Changing technology and fashion influence donations. Four years ago, pianola rolls filled the shelves, now they’re rare. Ten years ago music cassette tapes were unsellable, now everyone wants them.

“I’d never heard of Marie Kondo until I turned up after one Christmas holiday and there was just so much stuff,” Junor says. “It was, ‘I’m cleaning out, it’s not giving me joy any more.’ ”

She reckons there are few religious, environmental or political groups who have not created protest placards using Reverse Garbage materials.

“I don’t judge your cause,” she says. “Just buy your resources from here.”

The new warehouse space, fitted with shelves made from reclaimed timber, allows Reverse Garbage’s workshops, exhibition spaces and education programs to expand, including two on-site classrooms built entirely from reused materials.

There are also plans to transfer the huge snarling foam-sculpted T-Rex head that has watched over shoppers under the old leaking roof for decades.

Reuse fans can help lighten the moving load with last days bargains aplenty. Plaster teeth casts are a steal at only $2.

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