Repair Cafés and Fixit Clinics are free meeting places and events where people get together to fix their broken possessions. Visitors bring things they want fixed and work collaboratively with volunteers to repair them. The kinds of items that might be fixed at repair cafés includes computers, clothing, furniture, appliances, bicycles, toys, and more. When the volunteer repair work is coupled with teaching, visitors can become more self-reliant and re-learn an oft-forgotten ethic of fixing instead of throwing things away and buying new. Volunteers who provide repair skills and services range from professionals with repair businesses to tinkerers who love the challenge of getting an item up and running again. Sometimes visitors even help other visitors with repairs.
Value Proposition for Sustainable Consumption
The value in Repair Cafés lies in the diversion of waste from landfills, prevention of new purchases for repairable goods, and in shifting mindsets to consider repairing items before buying new items. Eventually this mindset could potentially lead people to consider the repairability of items in their purchasing decisions and it also empowers residents to learn to perform their own repairs. Similarly, by exposing participants to local repair services they may not otherwise know of, Repair Cafés may also serve to shore up the repair industry, driving customers to repair businesses instead of defaulting to purchasing new items. Likewise as reuse organizations and repair organizations partner, the reuse organizations learn repair skills and are able to make minor repairs to goods so they can be recirculated in the public for use.
Potential City Roles
- Promote—celebrate and profile fixit clinics
- Fund—provide grants and other financial support
- Support—other resources including space, in-kind advice, capacity building, leveraging others to provide support, volunteer recruitment
- Educate/outreach—support programs by spreading the word to the public and community partners
- Develop programs/services—incubate programs in partnership with other organizations to be handed off to another organization in the future
- Own—manage and operate: government staff serve as coordinator for programs (Source)
Implementation Challenges and Potential Solutions
- Volunteers get busy and sometimes “things fall through the cracks.” Having the programs coordinated by an established organization (such as local government or a non-profit organization) can help by providing paid staff to coordinate volunteers.
- Lack of funding. Approach repair and reuse organizations that may be willing to fund a program that furthers their organizational values and goals. (Source)
Hennepin County, Minnesota started its monthly Fix-It Clinic program in September 2012 and by August of 2015 had delivered 35 clinics with “...just fewer than 2,000 people (attending and) bringing with them 2,956 items to be repaired, of which 73% were successfully fixed. The final outcome: 13,946 pounds of (potential) waste was diverted from the landfill – all while creating community and teaching basic repair skills.“ (Source) While the avoided landfilling is quite useful, the greater value for sustainable consumption lies in the not-yet-quantified value of GHGs avoided by preventing production of new consumer goods. The Fix-It Clinic program partners with other organizations such as libraries, community/rec centers and churches to host the events for free or low cost. Local news outlets help the program get the word out about upcoming events.