Living Sustainably – Why Upgrade When You Can Repair?

Growing up, we all have the 3 R’s engrained into us: reduce, reuse, recycle; however, there is a fourth R that has too often been left out of the loop. Repair. Repairing your broken items is a vital step in minimizing your carbon and waste footprint. By keeping items longer, not only will you prevent their greenhouse gas emissions from contributing to landfill carbon emissions, but will also curb the emissions from manufacturing new products.

Shocking statistics have shown that even though there has been an increase in the number of purchased appliances (an increase of 1.13 to 2.6 televisions per household from 1960 to 2005) the number of repairmen is quickly declining despite the increase in population.

In the United States, 110,000 people worked as television and radio repairmen in the 1960s; however, despite the increase in population of 90 million people, there were only 40,000 repairmen left in the United States in 2006. 1

After an appliance, tool or electrical device has stopped working, our first reaction is usually to hop on over to the store and replace the item. Perhaps the wiring got misaligned or a small tear or rip appeared in some much-loved clothing.

These issues can often easily be solved through a quick repair and will function like new again; however, there is a societal misunderstanding that buying something new is more cost effective than repairing the old item.

In meetings with founders of repair workshops and initiatives, stories have been heard of people walking around their neighborhood and filling up cars with appliances that were thrown out. After being checked, all of them only required minimal repairs or were not even broken to begin with. Stories like these have led to a global movement to implement the fourth “R”.

The repair movement since 2009 has created 1,562 centres around the world in 35 countries2, including 15 in Canada1; and they are only gaining momentum. Many of these centres have been started by small groups of concerned people like you and I, or even single individuals. The founder Martine Postma built the organization on the founding principles of education and community. Thus, all the repairers at the centres are volunteers and excess items are donated to those in need. Community members are invited to bring in one item per visit to the café, engage in the process, learn from the repairer and possibly make their own repairs if they feel comfortable.

The aim is not to be solely a service provider, but to also foster learning for both the repairer and the client. The volunteer repairers also gain valuable knowledge in teaching and community building while at the centres or cafés.

Often these repair cafés are able to repair 63% (Global average)2 of the items that are turned into them. The most common fixes are replacing missing parts, changing wires and sewing up tears. All of which are generally quick procedures for experienced and inexperienced repairers.

The repair café model is not only a way to revert items from landfills and save thousands of tons of CO2 emissions every year, but it is also a place that fosters education, craftsmanship, and community building.

Some people have shown concerns about these cafés taking away from professionals, but as previously mentioned professional numbers have been declining in any case. These cafés are also a way for people to gain skills to become professionals since there are limited places people can learn these skills nowadays. If an item requires more care, the volunteers may identify a professional to help out the client.

Repair isn’t just subjected to cafés either, today the web-based contains free repair resources to anyone interested. Resources include online guides and ‘how to’ videos for a wide range of products such as electronics and clothing.

As Scouts, we are often provided the capacity and platforms to acquire handyman skills which are the building blocks of repair initiatives. In your next meeting, I challenge you to invite all of your peers to bring in an item that no longer serves its purpose quite as well; if you know someone in your community who is good with hand tools you can invite them along too, so they can foster the fixing of your items; and if not you can open up or another internet platform and work through the repairs together. If you don’t have anything to repair you can even open it up to the community to collect items from, or contact a local repair café near you to learn from and maybe even assist.

Too much of our natural spaces are disappearing due to waste, leaving less room for the great adventures outdoors we all crave.

So next time you go to throw away an item remember, “A Scout is…considerate and clean and wise in the use of all resources,” and think to yourself, can I repair this item with my skills?

With information online? Or at a repair centre near me? You can also stay tuned during the Waste Reduction Week in Canada to learn other tricks in reducing your waste footprint. Scouts Canada has also just recently announced the launch of their new Scouts for Sustainability program. While we, as Scouting youth, are already known for leading environmental and social causes to benefit the world around us, this program will help us in taking our impact to the next level. Learn more on the Scouts for Sustainability web pages.


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