Can we fix it? Repair cafes helping to fix our throwaway culture

Over a thousand repair cafes have popped up around the world, including Australia. Source: Getty

There was once a time when repairing household items was the norm. You’d sew buttons back on dresses, spend hours repairing toys or appliances, and call in a repairman for anything that was out of your depth. In today’s throwaway society however, it’s out with the old and in with the new as soon as things go wrong.

However, The Australian’s done a great feature on older Aussies who’re still putting the skills of mend-and-make-do to real use. A group of like-minded Baby Boomers have set up a monthly volunteer-based repair cafe, in a bid to prevent more things going to landfill.

“It’s helping people keep items rather than ­having to throw them away,” Guido Verbist, general manager of The Bower, an environmental charity that collects, repairs and sells preloved goods, told The Australian. “Traditional skills have been lost and nowadays you throw things away because it’s cheaper to buy a new one.”

Repair cafes were founded in Europe a decade ago to encourage people to consume less while giving them the skills and knowledge they needed to fix household and personal items themselves. Since then, over a thousand repair cafes have popped up around the world, including Australia.

However, a recent study found Aussies are tossing out broken household items and replacing with new rather than repairing them. However, the issue is costing billions, with the nation collectively forking out $28.3 billion over the past 12 months, or $1,460 per person.

The main reasons Aussies are throwing away household items rather than repairing include thinking it would cost more to fix (45 per cent), wanting a new model (35 per cent) and thinking that their broken appliance could not be fixed (30 per cent). However, the study also found that more than half of respondents (55 per cent) would be eager to learn how to fix their broken household items.

Household appliances that once lasted up to 20 years now often break or fall apart after just five years of use. What’s more, repairing these products has become even more difficult with many manufacturers making it so products can only be repaired in their specialty stores rather than at home or at local repair shops.

Now though, new legislation is being floated around Australia that would force manufacturers to make high-quality products that are easy to repair when they break.

Earlier this year, Europe also introduced a “right to repair” reform. As reported by BBC News at the time, the proposed legislation in the UK and Europe wants products that can be fully dissembled and repaired with spare parts and advice supplied by the manufacturer.The European proposals referred to lighting, televisions and large home appliances. The European Environmental Bureau also want other products like smart phones and printers included in the legislation.

The rules are being spearheaded by repair rights groups and a number of European environment ministers, who say changing the rules would reduce the amount of waste being dumped around the planet. Electronic waste is one of the most rapidly growing parts of the waste stream, Nathan Proctor, director of the Right to Repair campaign told PRI at the time. According to the United Nations University, the amount of e-waste is expected to grow to 52.2 tons globally by 2021.

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What are your thoughts on this? Do you still repair broken things when you can? Or do you find yourself throwing more away? 

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