There was a time when broken durables were repaired to increase their lifespan, save money and make the world less wasteful. Repair cafes can bring back that time.
In 2012, BBC Future ran a story by Gaia Vince, an award-winning science journalist, author, broadcaster and speaker. In the second part of the story titled The high cost of our throwaway culture, Vince sheds light on how our appetite for consumption is draining the planet’s resources.
Planned obsolescence is selling more products by designing products that deliberately fail
A pivot point in the story is “planned obsolescence”—a way of “selling more products by designing products that deliberately fail, cannot be repaired, or have a set lifespan imposed in some other way.” Vince says, “By the 1950s, planned obsolescence had become the dominant paradigm in mass production with things no longer built to last. A sophisticated advertising industry persuaded people to shop.”
Expanding on the concept of products made to fail, Vince makes a point that has aroused the suspicion of any consumer who ever bought a consumer durable—“Many people wonder whether electronic products are being designed to fail, from television sets, which have heat-sensitive condensers deliberately fitted onto the circuit board next to a heat sink connected to the transistors, to washing machines with ball-bearings fitted inaccessibly into the drums so they cannot be replaced. Specific lifespans are programmed by the manufacturers into chips in some equipment, so that printers will stop working after a preset number of pages, coffee makers will cease functioning after a preset quota of brews, and memory cards will stop uploading after a preset number of photo uploads. The user is then forced to buy a replacement.”
“Another trick is to make parts and accessories incompatible between brands or even models of the same brand. Thus, not only do consumers need to buy a different memory card or battery or charger for each device or brand of electronic equipment they buy, from phones to laptops to toothbrushes, but they must also buy a new charger or adaptor when they upgrade.”
Although, not all manufacturers and brands may be guilty of this practice, the moot point is what consumers can do to change the state of affairs.
Enter Martine Postma, a Dutch Journalist and founder of Repair Café—an idea that spawned a global community of people who work to minimise waste and use the planet’s precious resources responsibly, fixing one broken appliance at a time. It’s an idea whose time has come in Mumbai.
To quote Wikipedia, “A repair café is a meeting in which people repair household electrical and mechanical devices, computers, bicycles, clothing, and other items. They are organised by and for local residents. Repair cafés are held at a fixed location where tools are available and where they can fix their broken goods with the help of volunteers. The objectives are to reduce waste, to maintain repair skills and to strengthen social cohesion.”
Driven to act by her frustration for the developed world’s throwaway culture, Martine Postma opened the first Repair Café in Amsterdam in 2009. Watch Martine talk about it in this video.
In an interview with Making It Magazine, Martine observed, “Appliances have been produced using precious raw materials that do not deserve to be wasted. The world has limited stocks of raw materials and, as the world’s population grows, there are more people every day making a claim on these stocks.” Rather than “throwing away the entire product, when only a small part does not work”, Postma says we should develop a culture of fixing, thus saving money and helping sustain the environment.
In 2010, Postma set up the Repair Café International Foundation to empower local communities to set up their own projects. Repair Café is now a worldwide phenomenon with over 1500 cafes in dozens of countries, including one in Bengaluru.
The Hindu profiled Bengaluru’s repair café, remarking, “At the end of the day, these volunteers would return home with the satisfaction of having kept a few things back in circulation, and preventing them from going to the waste dump. A majority of the volunteers do all the fixing for free, and no object is considered too trivial to be brought to the Repair Cafe.”
We should develop a culture of fixing, thus saving money and helping sustain the environmentMartine Postma – Founder, Repair Café
A repair café is not merely a noble thought, it has practical application and the potential to create a positive disruption in a consumerist world that’s filling up landfills and depleting natural resources faster than it can their replacements. Nowhere else is this more evident than in Mumbai. The city generates more garbage than it can manage, as well as the highest volume of electronic waste in India, a staggering 120 tonnes every year. Now imagine a repairing service in Mumbai that’s good for the environment.
In addition to their contribution in saving the environment, repair cafés bring potential benefit to individuals and society. In the Indian context, a repair café is the kind of place to sow the seeds of science and engineering in young minds, teach individuals a constructive and endangered skill, and save the disappearing breed of its long-time practitioners, the repairmen. Remember the time when a broken TV cast a pall of gloom over an entire household who waited with bated breath for the TV technician, and welcomed him with awe and enthusiasm reserved only for the highest order of professionals.
a repair café is just the place to sow the seeds of science and engineering in young minds, teach individuals a constructive but endangered skill
Mumbai was never more ready for an idea like Repair Café. It has the people and the passion, and the motivation to balance its undoing of the environment. All that’s needed is for like-minded Mumbaikars to step up to the cause of giving Mumbai it’s very own Repair Café.
If you have an idea or know of one for a better Mumbai that you would like to feature in Ideas Worth Emulating, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.