Repair Cafes challenging throwaway culture

If something is broken, don’t throw it away, take it to your local repair café.

The whole concept of repair cafes is about challenging the throwaway culture, by allowing people to bring in small household items that can be repaired for free by a team of volunteers.

The very first Repair Café started in Amsterdam in late 2009. The movement is now believed to have grown to some 2,000 repair cafes worldwide, with Highton, Ocean Grove and Anglesea among the local sites.

Geelong Repair Café – Highton

Geelong Repair Café – Highton was started in August 2017 by Michelle Walker, Claire Ziegler and members of St Luke’s Uniting Church environmental action group.

They were inspired by watching popular ABC documentary War on Waste, which featured a repair café in Sydney.

The group raised the idea at Geelong Sustainability’s ‘green drinks’, where around 15 people put up their hand to help set it up.

In less than four years – including close to a year off due to COVID restrictions – its team of 20 volunteers has fixed well over 700 items, which would have most likely otherwise ended up as landfill.

Volunteers fix around three out of every four items brought in, ranging from kids’ toys and bikes to household appliances and clothing.

The volunteers come from all walks of life, with some former electrical engineers, and others bringing skills such as sewing that they were taught from family members.

Many of the volunteers were already involved with the church or Geelong Sustainability and others have joined along the way.

Geelong Repair Café – Highton fast facts

Most common items fixed

  • lamps
  • clothing repairs
  • sentimental items.

Percentage of items fixed: about 75 percent

Number of items fixed per session (held once a month): 30-60

Volunteer skill sets: At each session, we have about two to four sewers, three to four in electrical and two to three in general and mechanical (who fix items such as bikes and sharpen secateurs).

Shortest fix – the shortest fix took just three seconds. A man brought in a chainsaw and wasn’t aware that it had a safety lock on it.

Longest fix: the longest fix was a TV that took three hours. Our volunteers have incredible persistence, and this one refused to let the TV defeat him. By the end there were a few of them working on it and together they managed to fix it.

Saving waste from going to landfill: more than 700 items have been fixed, saving 1,500 kilograms from landfill

Terracycle collection point: the Geelong Repair Café – Highton is also a collection point for Terracycle’s recycling programs, which means anyone can drop off household products like toothpaste, toothbrushes and other toiletries, as well as corks and bottle tops for recycling.

Michelle Walker – Geelong Repair Café – Highton

It all happened very quickly. We already had a men’s shed and a sewing group, which we figured were the two main components of a repair café.

It’s just as much about reducing waste from ending up as landfill, and using less resources, as it is about valuing the skills of our older generation, in particular, and passing those on.

It’s also about giving people the confidence to take something apart. In many cases, all the item needs is to be taken apart, cleaned up and lubricated, then they’re right to go. Also, often our volunteers will look specific items up on the internet to see how to fix common issues and then they give it go.

A lady recently brought a coffee machine in and she was too scared to take it apart to see why it wasn’t working. As well as getting it working, our volunteers showed her how to take it apart and put it back together, giving her the confidence to try and fix other things.

We get a lot of sentimental items. One time, a lady brought in a blanket that had belonged to her grandma and travelled all the way from England with her. She was very appreciative.

One of our volunteers came on board after his daughter contacted us. His wife had passed away and she thought it would be a good way to put his welding skills to use and become more involved in his community.

The volunteers love what they do, and teaching others skills. One volunteer once said to me that he can’t believe he gets to do this for free. He just loves pulling things apart and problem solving.

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