Darren Sharp: Here’s the problem – Changing people’s behavior on waste reduction and prevention is a major challenge. Too many useful products like clothing, textiles, toys, bicycles, furniture, and household appliances are discarded as waste because people lack the practical knowledge or tools to repair broken items. While some of these goods are recycled, many are thrown in landfills. Yet in numerous communities, there are people who have the knowledge and skills to bring broken stuff back to life. So how can we create a system in which their skills can be shared?
Here’s how one organization is working on the problem: In 2009, Martine Postma organized the very first Repair Café in Amsterdam, Netherlands, to do something good for the environment and build social contacts within local communities. The Repair Café connected people who were skilled in fixing things with community members who needed items to be fixed once a month at a convenient neighborhood location. The repair experts shared their knowledge with the community members, who learned that repair is possible, and often not that difficult, with a little bit of community support. People got to experience firsthand the value of repairing things instead of buying new stuff to replace them.
- “There are now over 1,000 Repair Café groups operating in 25 countries around the world,” says Postma, founder of the Repair Café Foundation. “On average, groups meet once a month at which around 25 repairs are made with a 70 percent success rate. Eighteen thousand products are repaired each month under the Repair Café International umbrella, which equates to over 200,000 products per year. If one product weighs 1 kg [or 2.2 pounds], then Repair Café groups prevent 200,000 kgs [over 440,000 pounds/220 tons] of CO2 from being emitted each year.”
- At first, the Repair Café Foundation’s starter kit, which gives a blueprint on starting a repair café, was entirely free; but to keep the organization sustainable, the foundation needed to raise some income. The Starter Kit is now supplied via a webshop where it can be bought for a voluntary donation. Making this shift was a challenge for the foundation, but most people have been willing to pay a small sum for the kit. Organizations that promote volunteer activities need to maintain ongoing sources of revenue and the Starter Kit is a good way to cover some of the costs.
- The Repair Café Foundation has also developed close partnerships with organizations and companies that provide benefits like product discounts to local organizers and give yearly financial donations to the organization.
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