Building A Sustainable Society: Repair Cafes

Charlie Goedeke demonstrates how the motor of the fabric shaver works. Linda Poon/CityLab

"This series of workshops aims to keep broken items out of the landfill, and it might help you save a few bucks, too."

... It’s that throwaway culture that former sustainability journalist Martine Postma—now the founder of the Repair Cafe Foundation—aimed to tackle in October 2009 when she created the first of such cafes in Amsterdam. The world had been chucking away some 20 million to 50 million tons of electronic waste a year, according to the UN, creating environmental and health problems when dump sites are burned. Meanwhile the U.S. alone had generated almost 25 billion pounds of textile waste that year.

“It’s not just electronics and textile; also furniture and bicycles and toys—lots of stuff,” Postma said, speaking from her office in Amsterdam. “At the time, the garbage was collected once a week, and every week there were mountains of waste outside, so much that it really shocked me.”

That amount of waste continues to grow today, but so has Postma’s movement. From that first cafe in Amsterdam grew nearly 1,600 more across the globe, including 82 within the U.S. The international attention came swiftly, she said, with like-minded environmentalists asking to set up coffee meetings with her to learn how to get started. She now sells a digital starter kit for €49 (about $58) that includes a manual, permission to use the foundation’s official logo, and communication access to all the other cafes out there.

What she’s discovered was that it wasn’t that people liked throwing away old stuff. “Often when they don’t know how to repair something, they replace it, but they keep the old one in the cupboard—out of guilt,” she said. “Then at a certain moment, the cupboard is full and you decide this has been lying around [long enough].” ...
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