Repair and Reuse

Mending a Throwaway Culture




Countries can learn much from each other, and people that know how to fix things now have another model for benefiting their community by reducing the burden on landfills. Conceived three years ago in Amsterdam as a way to help reduce waste, the Repair Café concept—in which citizens gather one or more days a month to socialize while mending clothes and broken household items like coffeemakers and vacuum cleaners—currently operates in more than 30 locations throughout The Netherlands. The effort in sustainability has been bolstered by a government grant, support from foundations and small donations that pay for staffing, marketing and even a Repair Café bus.

“In Europe, we throw out so many things,” says Martine Postma, a former journalist who initiated the idea after attending an exhibit on the benefits of repairing and recycling. “It’s a shame, because the things we throw away are usually not that broken.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” says Han van Kasteren, a professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology, who works on waste issues. “The social effect alone is important. When you get people together to do something for the environment, you raise consciousness, and repairing [something] gives a good feeling.”

The forum harbors two other positive aspects: It’s a way for handy retirees and others to ply and mentor skills that may have been dormant and also saves families the cost of buying a new product, a common occurrence as repair shops vanish along with handymen that make house calls.

The Repair Café Foundation provides lists of tools, tips for raising money, marketing materials and helpful insights for interested groups. To date, Postma has received inquiries from Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, South Africa and Ukraine.

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