Material Mafia: redefining waste

European industrialized societies are still far from achieving a closed loop in the resources production and consumption system. The small initiative “Material Mafia” is engaged in tackling this problem and attempts to find simple and eco-friendly answers to the question: what to do with the leftover materials? Their aim is to reduce the waste of valuable resources through redistribution, education and networking. The philosophy behind is a firm belief in the reuse and upcycling of different kinds of materials and the ideal of pursuing a zero-waste society.

Flyer of the Reuse-Workshop organized by Material Mafia

Flyer of the Reuse-Workshop organized by Material Mafia

Trying to close the loop: redistributing materials for building, designing and educating purposes

Even though a large share of materials is nowadays recycled (in Germany the quota raised above 60% for municipal waste)[1], following the waste hierarchy framework it is still preferable to prioritize first the reuse the materials. To this end, Material Mafia collects materials from manifold sources: artists who offer their stage setting after the show is over, residual materials and by-products from industry and handicraft as well as remainders of trade fair installations. The different materials are then offered to users for a small fee in their storage facility, located in an urban garden in the centre of Berlin-Kreuzberg. The stock constantly changes and the users are diverse: schools and kindergartens looking for materials for handicraft lessons, design students working on their final piece or social projects and initiatives in need of materials to undertake their activities.  It is also possible to subscribe to the Newsletter and be informed regularly on new arriving materials or to request a specific material.

In 2014 Material Mafia collected and redistributed -among many other materials- over 200m3 of wood, fibreboard, plastic materials and paper.  Assuming that around half of the production of new materials is avoided through this redistribution, at least 345t CO2[2]e emissions were saved, which corresponds roughly to the total annual carbon footprint of 39 European citizens[3].

Material Mafia Lager

deposit of the Material Mafia

Challenging our perceptions on waste

But Material Mafia is not only redistributing the materials. They are also using them for workshops with children, initiatives and enterprises. The idea is to “make people sensitive to the reality of the concept ‘waste’”, the co-founder Simone Kellerhof explains. “We undermine the normative aesthetics and consumption behaviour”: trash is often defined as disposable solely based on normative judgements, for example a pair of jeans that are not fashionable anymore or some device presenting a dent but remaining fully functional. These are the patterns and behaviours that Material Mafia is challenging, starting with their slogan, “waste is a matter of definition”: redefining it could help to create a more cyclical economy that does not exploit resources unnecessarily, but aims at avoiding waste altogether. To foster this development, Material Mafia is also engaged in lobbying activities at the national and international level, criticizing the throwaway mentality and promoting different zero waste approaches.

And the idea is catching on. In five different German cities initiatives have taken up Material Mafia’s concept and have started redistributing materials and teaching citizens to redefine waste.


The Co-Founder of Material Mafia, Simone Kellerhoff

For more information, please go to:

[2] For more information see:
[3] The average European footprint (EU28) is taken from Olivier et al. (2015): Olivier, J.G.J., Janssens-Maenhout, G., Muntean, M. Peters, J.H.A.W., Trends in global CO2 emissions – 2015 report, JRC report 98184 / PBL report 1803, November 2015.

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