Thirty years ago, a television, kettle, toaster or the hem on a skirt were repaired; today these items are more likely to be discarded.
As the current pace of our society’s consumption is increasing our demand for finite raw materials and creating an enormous waste problem. Factors contributing to this overconsumption include latest fashion trends, but also the increasing difficulties encountered in maintaining or repairing. As a result local jobs in repair are declining and consumers have fewer options to repair their products. The American Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) had estimated that in 1963 approximately 110,000 people were employed as television and radio repairmen. By 1982 that number had dropped to approximately 80,000 workers and by 2006 that estimate was reduced to just 40,000 workers. This decline happened in contrast to the fact that the number of television sets per household had increased from 1.13 in 1960 to 2.6 by 2005. In 1967, the BLS also estimated that there were 9,136 shoe repairmen in America, but by 2004 it reported only 2,825 shoe repairmen. This is a significant decline despite the fact that America’s population had increased by over 90 million during this same period. Whilst these statistics may paint a bleak picture, the opportunity to reverse this trend and realize the currently untapped potential in reuse and repair are significant.
In the last six years there has been a quiet revolution combating the “take, make and dispose” linear model of resource destruction that has been expanding globally – the “share the repair” movement.
Dutch journalist Martine Postma keen to drive local-level sustainability launched the Repair Café movement in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 2009. The next year, fired by its success, she set up the non-profit Repair Café Foundation to provide guidelines. The guidelines help to build up a network of active Repair Cafés around the world
There are now 1,003 centres worldwide, with hundreds in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands and 15 listed in Canada.
Each is a community hub where local residents can bring in broken items and get them repaired for free, as well as network, learn skills, socialize and help others. Local expertise, tools, repair manuals and materials are all on hand. Combining education, social inclusivity, ‘sharing economy’ practices and sustainable action, the cafés have become nodes in the circular economy, teaching its principles from the bottom up.
Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It’s an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table – by leafing through books on repairs and DIY.
Grassroots Innovation and the Circular Economy: Global Survey of Repair Cafés & Hackerspaces ,the research findings undertaken by Professor Martin Charter and Scott Keiller of The Centre for Sustainable Design® suggest that volunteers at Repair Café are most strongly motivated to take part largely because of what they can do for others, namely their desire to help others live more sustainably, to provide a valuable service to the community and to help improve product reparability and longevity. Results also clearly suggest Repair Café activities are not just about repair. Modification to clothing is offered by most Repair Cafés and modifications to and upcycling of electrical and electronic components is also undertaken at some cafés.
Repair Cafés are not usually customers of repair specialists. They say that they normally throw away broken items because paying to have them repaired is, in general, too expensive. At the Repair Café they learn that you don’t have to throw things away; there are alternatives.
While politicians worldwide are talking about a better environment, volunteers are repairing over 18,000 items under the Repair Café’s flag every month.