‘Countering the Throwaway Mindset’

Repair Cafés help people fix broken household objects, for free.

Have you ever noticed that it’s cheaper to replace certain appliances than to fix them? Have you wondered what types or how much garbage your household produces?

Digging into these questions can help us figure out how much of the waste we produce is preventable. And the good news is that it’s not hard! COVID-19 has irrevocably altered our daily routines. Maybe this will help speed up current trends in recycling and reducing waste, as we all figure out new methods of sustainability.

“We can all do a ‘waste audit’ on the items we purchase and consume every day. Once you’ve done your audit, you can look to make some changes. My advice? Start small,” encourages Christina Hunter, co-founder of Reusable Revolution, a Zero-Waste initiative in Muskoka, Ontario, in an interview with Christian Courier. A waste audit identifies the largest category of what you throw away, along with examining items that could be diverted somewhere else.

Before the pandemic, a unique collaborative effort to encourage recycling and reusing was spreading across Canada in the form of Repair Cafés. Volunteers come together in a public space to fix any visitor’s broken goods in an attempt to reduce items headed to the trash. These initiatives give new life to items once earmarked for the landfill and foster creativity and community while doing so.

Repair and inspire

The first Repair Café opened in Amsterdam in 2009. Its Dutch founder, Martine Postma, expanded the café into a foundation two years later, which now supports other groups both in the Netherlands and internationally. These cafés organize monthly gatherings where volunteers help visitors – at no cost – to repair and learn how to fix their broken items, which range vastly from books to clothing, jewelry to blenders to jeans. According to Repair Café Toronto, its goal is “to build a more sustainable society and counter the throwaway mindset.” The cafés develop a community where “people with repair skills are valued.” According to a recent TVO documentary on Repair Café Toronto, volunteers have diverted 3,000 items from the landfill since its inception in 2013.

This past March, the European Union crafted a “right to repair” plan, including legal obligations for manufacturers of phones and other devices, to create products that are more easily repaired or reused. As Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment, commented, “The linear growth model of ‘take, make, use, discard’ has reached its limits.”

But “Canada has a long way to go in terms of promoting and allowing Canadians to repair their items,” Hunter tells CC. “Rules around warranties and end-of-life responsibilities must shift so that landfills remain free of debris that could easily be repaired. . . Years ago, a repair man (or woman) was easy to find and could repair almost anything. In these current times it isn’t easy or affordable to repair the broken item.” Presently, right to repair legislation in Canada falls under provincial umbrellas.

Photo of repair cafe taken before the COVID-19 pandemic

We are all connected

Zerowaste Canada has a list of Repair Cafés operating throughout Canada, although even more can be found through local libraries. Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) also has the following resource available for Canadians: Living Ecological Justice: A Biblical Response to the Environmental Crisis (2013), a learning tool and action guide that includes “reflections from Christian traditions and offers discussion questions, small-group activities and prayers for people who desire to advocate for creation” (CPJ).

While Repair Cafés are currently closed due to COVID-19, people under stay-at-home orders may be inspired to carry on their mission by fixing something rather than throwing it out. My sewing these past evenings has had its tedious and trying moments, yet after mending a pile of ripped pants and coats and missing-a-button shirts, I felt true satisfaction!

“Never before has the interconnectedness of all humanity – all of creation – been clearer than it is right now,” Karri Munn-Venn of CPJ says. “The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has dramatically impacted every aspect of our lives. The way we respond is of paramount importance.” COVID-19 has propelled us to take a good look around and inward, including the ways we spend our time and the items we throw out.

“We can choose what ways are worth going back to,” Christina Hunter says, “and more importantly what ways we can improve in the direction of a sustainable community.”


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