Tinkering, patching and mending is making a comeback as a new breed of repair experts help people maintain household items for free rather than throw them out.
Broken clocks, vacuum cleaners, clothes and furniture are just some of the items that can be repaired at one of a string of pop-up “repair cafes” now open around Australia.
One of the first to open, The Bower in Marrickville, Sydney, said its volunteer fixers had helped to repair items for more than 800 people and “diverted 97 tonnes of waste from landfill”, equivalent to “two and a half Olympic swimming pools”.
“We encourage people to reuse things where possible, to repair things where possible, or to donate them to us where we can fix them up and sell them at really low cost,” said The Bower’s Annette Mayne.
Fixing it all
The Bower has experts in electronics, carpentry and bicycle repairs.
But you cannot just dump your broken product and go for coffee; part of the deal is that you stay and learn how to fix it yourself.
“It would be fantastic if we could bring a change in attitude and behaviour in people, to actually turn away from being a throwaway society,” Ms Mayne said.
“We’re engaging with people to show them how repair happens, how simple it can be to use tools and to give them some skills, so that for example, if the leg of a chair breaks again, they can fix it themselves.”
It can be easier said than done at a time when many consumer products are so cheap it is seemingly quicker and more efficient to just buy a new one.
There is also the difficulty of trying to find a specialised fixer, and the problem that many electronic products can only be fixed using a company’s proprietary parts and services.
At the same time, waste in Australia is surging by 170 per cent each year — on average, two tonnes per person.
‘If you can’t fix it, do you really own it?’
US repair advocate Kyle Wiens, who founded the online repair community iFixit, said he believed many companies herded customers towards new purchases and actively blocked their ability to maintain older products.
“The helplessness that we all feel when something breaks and we can’t fix it, isn’t necessarily our fault,” he said.
“It’s a result of manufacturers systematically working to make these things obsolescent, and working to force people into having to buy a new one when they break.
“We’re seeing companies like Toshiba threatening to sue people for sharing repair manuals. If you buy an iPad, there is no way to get a replacement battery from Apple.
“So we have very few consumer rights when it comes to being able to fix things right now.”
Mr Wiens is pushing for “Right to Repair” legislation in seven states in the US with the catchphrase, “If you can’t fix it, you don’t really own it”.
His group also publishes thousands of videos and online repair manuals to teach people the basic steps needed to, for example, open up an iPhone.
“We think everybody ought to know how to fix their stuff, and since the manufacturers won’t share manuals we decided to write them ourselves,” he said.
Apple has argued that new laws forcing them to sell spare parts to DIY fixers and independent repairers would be dangerous because of the sophisticated circuitry, the volatility of batteries and the likelihood their products would become more hackable.
“We’ve helped over a million people fix iPhones themselves, without prior professional experience. The key is knowing how to do it safely,” said Mr Wiens.
“So if you have information, if you have photos that show you step-by-step, then you can dive in, you can look at the pictures before you take it apart.”
Read the article on The ABC.