What do you do when one of your chair legs breaks, your microwave stops working or the vacuum cleaner no longer works like it used to?
For most of us, the answer is straightforward. We throw the broken item away and run out to buy a new one. This is a direct result of the consumer-driven economy in which we live. Most products are produced and sold for much less than the perceived repair costs associated with common household items.
Manufacturers do this on purpose as a way to promote business and keep the assembly floor in motion 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unfortunately, this isn’t a sustainable long-term solution.
I recently wrote an article about e-waste and how this growing problem threatens our soil and water resources. In large part, the e-waste epidemic is a result of the consumer-driven mindset that encourages broken items to be thrown away rather than repaired or reused.
But one company – Repair Café – is hoping to change that. Started by Martine Postma in 2009, Repair Café locations are now located around the world including multiple locations in the United States. By teaching people to see their possessions in a new light, Repair Café is exactly what our global community needs to combat the dark cloud of needless waste.
The very first Repair Café appeared in Amsterdam but the foundation behind local Repair Cafés now supports groups around the world.
What Exactly is a Repair Café?
Repair Cafés are a free meeting place where residents can find tools, materials and volunteer experts dedicated to repairing anything and everything that comes through the door. Clothes, furniture, electronics, bicycles, appliances and toys are just a few examples of items that have been repaired at these events.
Whether you consider yourself a tinkerer, a person in need of a repair or someone who wants to lend a hand if possible, everyone is included. There are even books and manuals about assorted DIY projects available at most locations so you can learn new techniques as you go.
Think of it almost like a tool library with benefits. Repair Cafés are truly a community-driven event and with over 400 worldwide locations at the time of this writing, it is a trend that is catching on quickly.
Benefits of this Movement
Obviously, if an item can be repaired rather than tossed in the trash, the potential benefits are endless. Less waste is created on both the consumer and manufacturing end of a product’s lifecycle and people learn a new found respect for items they have been conditioned to view as junk fit for the trash receptacle.
Speaking of learning, the skills possessed by the many specialists that frequent these weekly, bi-weekly or monthly events (depending on the location) are actually teaching others how to fix household items – a skill many of our ancestors possessed but we have lost in a cloud of throw-away technology.
By passing these skills on, it ensures the success of the program for years to come as long as the community continues to support the initiative.
Contrary to popular belief, most repairs are simple and inexpensive. Rather than throwing out that torn pair of pants, bring them to a Repair Café and have a professional seamstress mend them. If you ask me, it sure beats handing over $60 or more for another comparable pair.
This net cost savings can easily be used for other sustainability projects at home and in the community.
The Repair Café Foundation is more than willing to support local groups interested in setting up their own Repair Café. For a small one-time fee, the digital starter set offered by the foundation includes an extensive How-To manual that teaches everything needed to get started, official Repair Café logos for advertising, an assortment of templates for posters and flyers, templates for legal issues, and signage.
The foundation also puts you in touch with other individuals and groups in the area who have expressed interest in starting a Repair Café.
The digital starter kit also gives newly founded Repair Cafés publicity on the Repair Café Foundation website and throughout its extensive global network.
I think this is something that nearly every community in this country can benefit from assuming there is enough community support. The digital starter kit is less than $100 which should be easy to raise as part of a community effort to stop wasting and start reusing.
Plus, you might learn valuable repair skills while helping others and strengthening the community using sustainable methods.
You can learn more about Repair Café at repaircafe.org and if you successfully set one up in your community, we’d love to hear about it. In fact, I will write an article highlighting your Repair Café so everyone can see this cool idea in action.