An Overview Of Our Solution
"If it can't be reduced, reused, repaired, recycled or composted, it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production."
We are seeing the re-emergence of repair culture by individuals who find it satisfying, creative and fun to fix things. In the act, they share skills, influence the way we see our stuff, and create community.
There are 1,600 Repair Cafes in 33 countries: free community meeting places to bring a beloved but broken item to be repaired by an expert who is also your neighbor. They extend the useful life of tons of items every month, but the real significance is the signal they send: We are better off when we see our own community in the midst of cooperation, creativity and decency, where goals are achieved and positive outcomes realized. This idea is eminently replicable and will encourage climate change solutions at every level.
- Population Impacted Millions worldwide, I should think.
- Continent: North America
Used to be, every town had repair shops. Everyone knew who to go to when they needed something fixed. That “know-how” was close at hand, practiced by parents, neighbors or a local “fix-it man.”
But the world has embraced a linear, rather than cyclical, use of resources. Thus we have the axioms “Convenience decides everything” and "I am what I own."
“The total amount of yearly e-waste is forecast to increase to 50 Metric Tons in 2018. This is comprised of 1.0 Mt of lamps, 6.3 Mt of screens, 3.0 Mt of small IT (mobile phones, pocket calculators, PCs, printers, etc.), 12.8 Mt of small equipment (vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, electric shavers, video cameras, etc.)…. Source: Global E-Waste Monitor, 2014. United Nations University and Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability.
The consumer economy is powerful. The growing repair culture is a countervailing force: community meeting places that are creative, socially vibrant and a platform for building awareness.
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt
“Core” repair categories are: mechanical, electrical, electronic, digital, clothing & textiles, jewelry, things made of wood, bicycles & blade sharpening. Each community may offer other skills: dolls & stuffed animals, metal welding, photo restoration, plant care, editorial wordsmithing. You may even get help finding your long-lost users manual on-line.
We categorize 3 levels of repair. “Repaired”--the item is working again; the owner watched or participated in the troubleshooting and learned something about how it works; “Not Repaired”--the pronouncement “tried, dead and done” frees the owner for guilt-free recycling, upcycling or responsible disposal. And the middle category: “Half Repaired.” The defect was ID'd and explained by the coach. If a replacement part was specified, the owner usually returns with it that day or at the next Repair Cafe. We can’t guarantee the item you bring will get fixed. All we can guarantee is that you’ll have an interesting time.
Type of intervention
Describe your behavioral intervention
Repair Café is about these things: Extend the life of stuff you care about or that you rely on. Get curious about the way things work. Use tools. Preserve & pass-on repair know-how. Honor those who have it. Sit elbow-to-elbow at a work table with your neighbor. Share skills. Reduce waste. Make friends.
The level of gratification is high on both sides of the table. "Almost every item people bring has meaning to them." Laughter and tears are common.
Anecdotal evidence of the impact of Repair Cafes is abundant. All Repair Cafe organizers collect comments from their customers. In the Hudson Valley, these now number in the thousands. From the practical: “Pants mended. Clock fixed. Toddler bike now roadworthy. $200 printer back in service after the company said ‘Buy a new one.’” The effusive: “I can’t begin to tell you what an absolutely lovely and wonderful experience this has been.” To the esoteric: “There is a strong beam of hope and light coming from this space.”
You might think that the most common comment might be, “Oh, I got it fixed.” Or “It was free.” But the words people use most often to describe a Repair Cafe are: “It was fun.” And fun, by any definition, is a relevant value when we talk about behavioral intervention.
As needed, please explain the type of intervention in more detail
There is something about the act of repairing that motivates and satisfies deeply-felt parts of our personality. We can trace this insight back to Aristotle: One of the greatest sources of human enjoyment is being able to enact one’s knowledge. Or, as Oprah might say: Show what you know! The act of repairing involves “trouble-shooting”--which to many people is an irresistible proposition.
We can underscore one more attribute of Repair Cafes: they are non-partisan & bridge ideological gaps. "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair." George Washington, 1787
Describe your implementation
"Repair Cafe" is the trade name & brand offered freely by the Repair Cafe Foundation in the Netherlands. Repair Cafe events are publicized as widely as possible with this call to action: Bring a beloved but broken item to be repaired for free. Open to all (most of our venues are wheelchair accessible). When a "customer" arrives with their items, they see our Welcome Table and the interaction begins. (RC is not a drop-off service).They read our "House Rules" and by signing-in confirm their agreement.
Repair Cafe is an all-volunteer project. The guys and gals who do the repairs offer a sophisticated level of repair--these skills really do exist in every community. Technical skills are important of course, but interpersonal communication skills are most important.
The connections that people make as they attempt & mostly succeed at repairing things is not beside the point--it is the point.
Early on I received advice that has been a enabling condition: Run your RC to keep your repair coaches happy. Therefore, a key success factor is pizza.
Safety is of paramount importance at our events.
Liability concerns are often brought up, but have not been an obstacle to the implementation of any of the 24 Repair Cafes in our region. By and large, RCs are organized without legal or tax status. They operate as public events under the general liability insurance umbrella of the host venue (church, library, community center) similar, for example, to a craft fair. Some hosts require an policy rider, but that is the exception. Our "House Rules" provide a basic legal disclaimer: everything done in the name of Repair Cafe is done voluntarily, and the organizers and volunteers are not liable for damage.
Each Repair Cafe is locally organized. In the Hudson Valley our organizers include: public libraries, faith groups, town boards, Transition Town groups, local Sierra Clubs, Climate Smart Task Forces, Conservation Advisory Councils, a County Solid Waste Management Authority and a County Emergency Communications Association.
Librarians are leaders; this is active, hands-on learning. And it is intergenerational. "Cornwall Public Library hosts this eco-friendly event to encourage frugality, ingenuity, and the appreciation of everyday objects."
Sponsoring churches currently are Methodist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Reformed. They see this as aligned with their mission of community outreach and they embrace the theological aspect: making whole that which is broken. "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." (Leonard Cohen)
The Rockland County Solid Waste Management Authority was the first agency in our region to organize and sponsor an RC, coordinated with the Rockland Youth Conservation & Service Corps.
High school students volunteer for community service credit. Not surprisingly, they often end up behind the digital work table.
Who adopted the desired behaviors and to what degree?
The activity we have described here includes repair coaches & volunteers who run the events, and "customers" who bring items to be fixed. We see the learning and benefits on both sides of the table, and this equation defines the repair movement. "It was a terrific experience. I came in with a broken lamp switch and learned how to fix it for myself next time."
The RC Foundation estimates that worldwide in 2017, some 50,000 people brought items to Repair Cafes, where they were helped by more than 21,000 volunteers.
In the Hudson Valley, Catskills and Capital region of New York State we saw 59 events in 2017; in 2018 we will see 80+ events in 24 communities (with several more organizing) in 10 counties. This involves the time of approx 360 repair coaches & volunteers (remember the very social "cafe" side of each event means home-baked treats, coffee & tea, etc.)
How did you impact natural resource use and greenhouse gas emissions?
Repair Cafes are good at extending the useful life of everyday items--keeping them out of the landfill--and the RC Foundation estimates more than 300,000 items were saved from the “waste mountain” worldwide in 2017.
Our local data collection has been on the order of: "125 people brought roughly 250 items for repair. Of those 250 items we want to say 75-80 percent were repaired during our 3-hour event." Nonetheless, in our region, it is reasonable to estimate the number of repaired items in 2017 at 2,500 to 3,000.
The Repair Café Foundation has developed an online tool - the Repair Monitor - to enable volunteers to collect and share repair data via a central database. By March 2018, information about almost 4,000 repairs had been entered into this system, aiming to promote reparability and durability of products. The tool is currently only in Dutch, but it is a shared goal of the Foundation and our Hudson Valley RCs to develop and begin using the Repair Monitor in 2019.
What were some of the resulting co-benefits?
The Kids Take-Apart Table: a supervised area for kids to take things apart and learn. (It is a common narrative of our repair coaches that they took things apart when they were kids...and had to learn how to put them back together). Parents and Grandparents now bring their kids to RCs just for this.
The Right to Repair movement: there is a strong affinity here with repair cafes and other repair events. Right to Repair legislation has been introduced in 19 state legislatures.
Mentoring: one of our repair coaches mentors young adults with special needs. He calls them Wiz Kids. He tutors them in electronics & job skills, and through that they've enrolled in community college and found jobs as repair technicians.
Classroom units: The RC Foundation is developing classroom units to bring local repair coaches into the classroom to prove that things can be repaired!
Repair Cafe is about people sharing what they know, and re-thinking what they own. It a tail wagging the dog: the active, participatory volunteer gig that animates the larger imperative of sustainability and community.
Repair Cafes everywhere are volunteer projects and this solution does not propose to change that model. There are now nearly 1,600 Repair Cafes worldwide in 33 countries, and the pace is picking up--almost 500 new locations have been added in the last 12 months. See them on the Repair Cafe Foundation’s "Find a Repair Cafe" Locator map at https://repaircafe.org/
Return on investment
The Dutch Ministry of the Environment funded the creation of a Repair Cafe Foundation in 2010. The purpose of the foundation is to support local groups around the world in setting up their own Repair Cafés. The website and digital resources developed by Martine Postma are extensive and excellent--they have without question enabled this growth. Dutch Government funding has continued at 50% with Dutch foundation and corporate support filling in the rest. The Foundation pays Martine's salary and that of 2 part-time associates. Those investments compare very favorably with the accomplishments we have described in this proposal. In the Hudson Valley, coordinator John Wackman is working without compensation.
How could we successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?
The Repair Cafe model has shown itself to be eminently replicable and we believe the potential for growth is enormous. In the U.S. RCs are mostly in the Northeast and West coast. Founder Martine Postma and I would like to create a strategy to fill in the rest of the country. The RC concept has "translated" well to other cultures, and we want to build stronger partnerships with existing RCs in Africa and Asia to reach many more communities there, as well as Latin and South America where there are few. We would look to other Solutions Project entrants to help formulate the best way forward. All that is needed is the travel and expense support to carry the message.
"I feel like we were all part of something important. There was an abundance of skilled folks available to help the long line of people with their "beloved but broken" stuff. There was comfortable seating and tasty refreshments, but most of all there was an AMAZING vibe. Looks like we'll be doing this again!”