As I mentioned in our “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle less” article, it is better to focus on reusing and reducing. But you may be asking, “what if it’s too broken to reuse?” Well that, my friends, is where a new “R” comes in: repair.
By repairing your clothing, belongings, electronics, etc., you can greatly increase their lifespans. This reduces your need to purchase new products, and by extension, the use of natural resources and energy. The DIY repair of products contributes to their being less overall waste as well.
The bad news is that there are many companies out there, especially when it comes to vehicle and electronics manufacturers, who actively try to deter the consumer from making DIY repairs to products they rightfully own. This often takes the form of companies implementing tactics such as planned obsolescence into their products or limiting access to product repair manuals so that only company-approved technicians can fix them. These sorts of tactics have resulted in many people trying to have right to repair laws implemented around the globe, but most notably in the United States and Europe.
The good news? Changes are being made, and there are people and organizations out there who are dedicated to making it easier for the consumer to have a say in who repairs their own products, whether that be themselves or a cheaper option than what the company they bought it from provides. As of July 6, 2021, President Joe Biden is planning to order the USDA and the FTC to implement rules that give consumers the right to repair their electronics and equipment however they like. Even people like Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple, are coming out in support of the right to repair.
One website that’s particularly invested in the right to repair is ifixit. According to their manifesto, “if you can’t fix it, you don’t own it.” Their focus is to empower people to repair their own products and have a vast database of repair guides for products ranging from vehicles and consumer electronics to apparel and household items. Their database of laptops, tablets and smartphones are given repairability scores showing how easy they are to repair (10 being the easiest, and 1 being the most difficult. So far only one smartphone has received a score of 10). ifixit even provides access to the tools and parts needed for the repair of some of the more popular products on their site. They also do their best to inform people about which companies encourage the consumer to perform DIY repairs, and those who go out of their way to make it as difficult as possible.
Taking a note out of ifixit’s book, it will be easier to repair something if you buy a product from a company that has consumer repair in mind. One notable company is Fairphone, who make a smartphone that is not only easy to repair (the only phone on ifixit to receive a reparability score of 10) because of its modular design but is also as sustainable and ethical as possible—something Fairphone is working to constantly improve.
“But what if I have absolutely no technical skills or I’m unable to fix something myself?”
That’s where repair cafés come in. Repair cafés are a global movement started in Amsterdam in 2009 by Martine Postma. The cafés are committed to helping and teaching people to repair the items they might otherwise throw away. Just bring in a broken appliance or other item in need of mending to a repair café near you, and one of the volunteers will help you fix it (the types of repairs offered by each café largely depend on the skills of the volunteers, so check with your local café to see what they offer). If there isn’t a café near you, Repair Café International provides the resources for people to volunteer and to be able to start their own repair café. Here in Colorado, there are three registered repair cafés: Pikes Peak Library District Repair Café in Colorado Springs, Manitou Arts Center Repair Café in in Manitou Springs, and Solid State Depot Repair Café in Boulder.