A few years ago, I burned out the motor in my food processor by trying to make a "raw vegan cake" with a recipe that involved starting with raw carrots. (Live and learn to trust your gut when looking at recipes). For months, including dozens of emails and phone calls back and forth with the manufacturer, I tried to find a way to repair or replace it—either by mail or by finding an authorized local repair shop. Every customer service rep told me basically the same thing, unofficially of course: It's cheaper to just buy another one. But I wanted to keep all those metal and plastic and mechanical bits out of the landfill. There had to be a better way.
Eventually, I caved and gave up and bought another one and donated my old one to Goodwill, in the hopes that either someone more handy than I would take it home and make it work again, or that one of Goodwill's recycling partners would break it down for usable parts. Turns out, I could have skipped all of that hassle and just taken it to a local repair cafe—a new movement of community organized workshops and events where you can find help fixing broken household items and keeping them in circulation. FOR FREE.
According to the Repair Cafe Foundation, there are currently 88 official Repair Cafes around the US—and more than 1,588 of them around the world. On RepairCafe.org, there's an interactive map and resource list searchable by city/town for finding a fix-it workshop near you. Founded in Amsterdam in 2009 by sustainability journalist Martine Postma, Repair Cafes are grassroots community resources organized to help people combat our current throwaway consumer culture—and the rapidly rising problem of planned obsolescence from the companies who make our goods and would rather see you re-purchase than repair.
Linda Poon recently shared her first hand experience at a Maryland repair cafe on Citylab, and here's a visual guide to how one at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, works:
In addition to official repair cafes, many of the growing number of "maker spaces" and "hacker spaces"—coworking spaces focused on sharing resources for high-tech and engineering innovation—also regularly host repair workshops for the greater community, leveraging their members' skill sets for good. If you can't find a repair cafe or maker space or fix-it workshop near you, try contacting a local vocational school or college engineering department for resources.
From vacuums to blenders, microwaves to garden tillers, lamps to bicycles, repair cafe "volunteer fixers" say that they have an average repairable rate of 70 percent. Even if everyone reading this just tried to repair one broken household item sitting in a closet or garage or shed, that's a whole lot less bulk collection garbage. Pretty amazing to think about—especially during #PlasticFreeJuly.