Repair Instead Of Throwing Away: The Story Behind Repair Café

According to the latest Eurostat statistics, the EU countries produced 61 million tonnes of municipal waste, which was 4.2 % below the level for the prior year. The effort to raise awareness about waste reduction and waste prevention has generated various initiatives. The Repair Café Foundation is one of them; and, since 2009, it has made serious efforts to support sustainability and encourage local community involvement in its project. Martine Postma, its founder, provides insights on a concept which today unites 1350 Repair Cafés worldwide.

Martine Postma is a former journalist, and back in 2009 she wanted to do more than write about waste reduction. “Why do people throw away so much, why do we create so much waste? One of the reasons, I found, is that people no longer make repairs. Most people don’t know how to do it anymore. So, when something breaks, they just don’t know what to do. It’s easier to buy a new product”, emphasizes Martine.

The concept of the Repair Café is to bring handy people together with people who have broken items. The results are positive both for the environment and the community, getting broken items repaired and bringing communities together. Following the success of a pilot event in Amsterdam, Martine started to advertise the concept and wrote a manual on how people can create their own Repair Café. The interest in Repair Cafés is getting steadily bigger, responding to the effort the foundation has made to spread the concept. Today the starter kit is available in 7 languages, and there are 1350 Repair Cafés in 33 countries.

Making Repairs Attractive Again

While the number of Repairs Cafés is increasing, Martine explains that the foundation has also had to set new goals, namely to stimulate the production of more repairable products. This is one of the lessons learned, that many products cannot be properly repaired, either because there are not handy people available or because spare parts cannot be obtained. “We believe that in a circular economy products need to be repairable, so that we can use them for a longer period and do not have to waste the resources that they consist of”, argues Martine.

But how does this work in practice? Anyone can order the starter kit on the website and follow the advice given to set up a Repair Café. Once the volunteer local repair experts and a suitable location have been identified, they gather once a month, and people who have broken objects can come and try to fix them under the repair expert’s guidance. It is a sort of peer-to-peer learning program as “the visitor will learn something about repairing – he will see that it’s possible, and that in many cases it’s not that difficult”, Martine tells us. Moreover, probably the most important thing to take away from such an experience is that “the next time something breaks, hopefully you won’t think: I need to get a new one. You’ll think: I need to get this repaired, and then you’ll go to the Repair Café again. Or try to fix it yourself.” In terms of repairable products, visitors can bring not only electronics devices, but also clothing, toys, bicycles, furniture, and other items.

A Repair Café is meant to inspire people and make repairing both entertaining and useful. After all, as Martine says, “a Repair Café is not just an event for sustainability, it’s not just useful. It’s also a social event, it can be fun. As a result of this combination of aspects the Repair Café is able to attract different sorts of people.

The Foundation’s plans for the near future and the long term are to keep making people across the globe enthusiastic about the concept. Moreover, the broader subject of reparability is a focus of the team’s careful attention, with the objective of finding solutions “so that in the future products will be more sustainably designed and can be repaired more easily and in a better way”, concludes Martine.

Photos: Martin Waalboer/Repair Café International Foundation

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