At any given moment in time, all of us own products that no longer perform the way that they used to: a watch that’s stopped, a lamp that flickers, a beloved sweater that’s been snagged. Whether its planned obsolescence, regular use or accidental damage, very few products will last a lifetime. However, the problem isn’t merely the fact that things break, but our reaction in response to them breaking. All too often we simply throw our faulty and worn products away and purchase replacements with little thought for the environmental cost of doing so.
If we are to move towards a circular economy, something which could save €600 million annually (about $679 million in U.S. currency), then the frequency of product repair and reuse needs to increase. Thankfully, dedicated groups of individuals have already begun setting up fixing hubs, often referred to as ‘Repair Cafés’, to promote and facilitate the repair of everyday goods and appliances, locally and free of charge.
Repair Cafés meet on a regular basis in accessible locations, gathering together volunteer repairers and local residents who bring along products that require fixing and mending. The products brought in for repair vary from Café to Café, but can include everything from bicycles to electronics and even clothing and textiles. Not only do the Repair Cafés provide an effective process for increasing the functional life of peoples’ possessions and diverting waste from landfill, but they also provide other benefits, such as knowledge sharing, opportunities to learn new skills and the chance to meet other members of the local community. The Farnham Repair Café in Surrey in the UK even includes a ‘creative zone’ where members are encouraged to use their ingenuity to upcycle and repurpose broken items, giving them new or improved functionality.
The Farnham Repair Café, a collaborative project between The Centre for Sustainable Design ® at the University for the Creative Arts and Transition Town Farnham, is also leading the way in terms of repair data collection and encourages other groups to follow their lead. At last count, the Café had achieved a 59% repair rate, having successfully diverted 477kg of faulty products from landfill through repair and upcycling activities, saving approximately 219kg of CO2. The Centre for Sustainable Design ® in partnership with the Repair Café International Foundation has also recently completed its second data survey on the global network of Repair Cafés with the aim of identifying key opportunities and challenges faced by Repair Café organizers. It is hoped that the results of this research will help the Repair Café International Foundation to further support the 1032 Cafés currently in operation, leading the way towards a more sustainable future.
“Repair Cafes are about repair but importantly also have a community function, with repairers providing skills back to community in a friendly atmosphere” Professor Martin Charter, Co-Founder of Farnham Repair Café. “Repair Cafes have an important role to play in extending the life of products and in making local communities and economies more circular”.
The Farnham Repair Café meets on the second Saturday of every month between 10am and 12:30pm in the Farnham United Reformed Church. For more information please visit the website. Alternatively, you can find a Repair Café near you by visiting the Repair Café International Foundation’s website.
This Women of Green guest blog was written by Rhiannon Hunt. Rhiannon is an award-winning designer and innovator creating successful, sustainable design concepts for a circular economy. She continues to develop her creative practice, embracing sustainability as an inspiration for her work, which in turn informs her research into sustainable design practices as part of a PhD at the University for the Creative Arts. She has recently joined The Centre for Sustainable Design and is currently engaged with research projects on repair cafes and makespaces.
Photo source: Farnham Repair Cafe