Category 18 April 2019

The Repair Café Foundation: Inspiring repair and re-use in communities to reduce waste

The first Repair Café, set up in 2009, aimed at promoting sustainable practices by raising awareness about reuse and repair. It provided a free space for citizens to try and fix their broken products, with the help from expert volunteers. This waste reduction initiative has since been replicated all over the world, resulting in a global network of Repair Cafés. 

The challenge:

Buy. Use. Break. Toss. When products break they are often disposed of without any attempt to repair them. This has significant implications for resource efficiency, CO2 emissions and waste management. As well as a lack of awareness regarding repair options, other reasons such as cost, and a shortage of dedicated repair services, have been blamed for this trend.

The measure:

The first Repair Café was organised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 2009, by a Dutch journalist, blogger and circular economy advocate. The Repair Café established a meeting place where citizens can bring their broken items to be repaired for free, in an informal, social and collaborative setting. The café supplies the tools and materials necessary to repair a wide range of household items, such as clothes, furniture and electricals. Users are invited to have a go themselves, with expert volunteers also on hand, sharing expertise and assisting when necessary.

Following on from a successful launch in Amsterdam, more Repair Cafés quickly opened up around the Netherlands, and over the border in Belgium and Germany. This prompted the establishment of the Repair Café Foundation in 2010, a non-profit organisation that provides professional support to groups looking to start their own Repair Café. The Foundation supplies starter kits to would-be Café organisers, and has created an online forum for sharing good practice, and enhancing the cooperation between actions.

In only its seventh year, 2016 saw the opening of the 1000th Repair Café. The concept has been adopted in over 20 countries across six continents, making the Repair Café Foundation a truly global network. The effect of the movement is substantial, with around 20,000 items currently being repaired in Repair Cafés each month.

Lessons learnt:

Repair Cafés look to inspire a culture of repair in its users, by promoting learning, training and doing within a community atmosphere. The initiative has shown how the social economy can stimulate the circular economy, and how local can become global.

The initiative has come under some criticism from people who argue that the service competes with and threatens professional repair specialists.  The Repair Café Foundation counters that this is not the case, and that their users would have thrown away items rather than gone to a specialist. In fact by instilling a culture of repair among citizens, the Foundation hopes to increase the demand for repair professionals in the future.

Further deployment:

In their current form, as social enterprises, Repair Cafés are totally reliant on volunteers both for their creation and management. However, the phenomenal spread of the concept shows that the demand is there for such initiatives, all over the world. The concept is an estimated 9 on the GML scale.