What are repair cafés?
Kirjoittanut: Saana Keränen - tiimistä FLIP Solutions.
Not too far in the past it was still the norm to always try and fix what is broken. People would sew new buttons to their shirts, glue together broken furniture or take their appliances to a shop to be fixed. Neighbours and friends would help each other and pass on knowledge on how to repair things. Today, a lot of that has changed. It’s often cheaper and for sure easier to just throw away what is broken and get something new to replace it. It’s become so normal that most people don’t question it at all, even though when you start to think about it it’s clear that it doesn’t make any sense. Personally, I have tried to stay aware of environmental issues for years already, but this specific topic has only really occurred to me recently. In this essay I will talk about why this is happening and how it has affected the world. In addition, I want to research about ways to try and fix it and even finding business opportunities connected to it.
The first problem this throw away culture creates is an obvious one, the waste. Landfills are overflowing and even though there are a lot of efforts to recycling, most things cannot be efficiently recycled. Electronic waste especially is a huge problem. For a while already it has been the fastest growing waste stream in the EU and under 40% of it is recycled in any way. Large household appliances make up over 50% of all electronic waste and these things taking up a lot of space in landfills is not even the biggest problem. Most electronics contain toxins that are harmful for both humans and the environment. The EU has passed multiple legislations to ban harmful chemicals, for example led, but this alone will not solve the problem. (News, European Parliament, 2022)
How quick we are to dispose of things has also affected our environment in a different way, by taking away many local businesses. All kinds of different repair shops use to be very common, and most appliances used to come with a full manual that showed you how the item was built. This meant that anyone with a just a bit of knowledge about the topic could go about figuring out what is wrong and fixing the problem. Now a days most electronics are deliberately built in a way that they cannot be fixed by anyone else than the manufacturer, if even them. This especially is a problem that should interest us entrepreneurs. While big corporations think of more and more ways to make consumers buy more from them, small local companies die off in the process. Like said, a lot of these things are built to be unrepairable so a simple change in mindset won’t do much. But a shift in our consumer habits and culture might change things in the long run.
Like so many other things that have to do with sustainability, repair culture has gained some popularity in the past few years. The movement is still quite small but different businesses and charities that focus on bringing back the talent and culture of fixing things are popping up around the world. These are often called repair cafés. The business models vary from full charities to small businesses, but the main concept is the same. Anyone can come in with anything that needs fixing from pants that are missing a button to chairs with a broken leg or a lamp that won’t turn on. Workers from all different kind of fields then fix these things either for them or with them. The workers can be engineer students fixing electronics or grandmas repairing clothes, or anyone in between.
The reason for these cafés becoming popular is not just the literal repairing, they also tackle social problems. Loneliness and lack of community are something that an increasing amount of people struggle with. Especially after the pandemic this problem has started to increase substantially. When all kinds of people from the same community come together to fix things and solve problems, that creates a sense of community. It takes people back to something that is so natural to use yet often overlooked, passing on knowledge from one generation to the next.
So, should we have a right to be able to repair what we own? Many big corporations would likely answer no. The competitiveness in capitalism has created a world where companies do their best to stop anyone else profiting from their products. This is something that a lot of members of the European parliament (MEPs) have been trying to change already for at least a decade. Right to repair is a proposed legislation that would ensure the practical means for electronics equipment owners to repair their devices. This legislation is seen as one of the crucial steps towards the European union’s plan to achieve circular economy by 2050. Among some of the things that MEPs are demanding to be included in the legislation are:
- Making repairs more attractive to consumers, this could mean bonuses for repairing a faulty device or receiving a replacement device for the duration of the repair
- Oblige manufacturers to provide free access to repair and maintenance information
- Ensure devices are more durable and easier to repair and include removable and replaceable parts
- Offer better consumer information regarding the reparability of devices
- extend guarantees (European Parliament , 2022)
Repair cafés and the culture around them are a great example of a business model that is not only “green” but actually take us towards circular economy and a more sustainable mindset. Many of these places do still work on a charity basis but there are also examples of business done this way. People in general are becoming more and more conscious about sustainability issues and are willing to pay for services that support that lifestyle. Some repair cafés have already been at least tried out in Finland too and I personally see great opportunities here for especially student communities.
European Parliament . (2022, april 7). Retrieved from News, European Parliament : https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/priorities/circular-economy/20220331STO26410/why-is-the-eu-s-right-to-repair-legislation-important
News, European Parliament. (2022, april 26). Retrieved from European Parliament: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20201208STO93325/e-waste-in-the-eu-facts-and-figures-infographic