Fixing the planet requires more than recycling, we need a repair culture in Sweden!

A successfull repair of a TV

Has Sweden missed the community repair movement sweeping Europe and the world? Not entirely. Since 2017, we have spent weekends and evenings helping people fix their broken or worn-out possessions at Repair Café Malmö. We are proud to be a part of this global grassroots movement. Groups around the world come together at community venues and are faced with a never-ending flow of prematurely broken products, including phones, laptops, gaming equipment, lamps, music equipment, coffee machines and toys, to name a few. We are not creating free repair shops, instead we are hosting transformative learning events.

Participants can learn why their product broke, gain new skills, and question the frustrating and broken system of production and consumption. Our events are designed to stimulate demand for better products and promote, not compete with, the commercial repair sector. We want to foster a culture where people think before buying and repairing before buying new.

We need this change if we are to tackle issues related to our unsustainable consumption like Climate Change and toxic e-waste. Sweden has a great culture of recycling, but we also consume more than most. Recycling is important, but we can, and must, do better than that. For example, with electronics, we see many devices going to recycling that could be reused as is (i.e. not even broken) or repaired. We need to change this, but how?

The question was raised in the article in Svenska Dagbladet on July 9 2019, “Sverige missar Europas nya hållbarhetstrend”: why are there so few Repair Cafés in Sweden? The article mentions that Swedes are more shy. That might be the case, but another reason could be that Swedes are relatively good at recycling (a high quota is recycled, but still more than a third of electronics are not); but the perception of recycling is not accurate – most don’t know that much of the valuable material is not recovered, only the easy stuff like gold, silver, copper, etc. Critical materials like rare earth elements, indium or gallium in our electronics aren’t recovered at all. If there was more awareness that so much of the material is wasted, maybe more people would think again before discarding a device.

We are starting to see the change at Repair Café events. When you try to repair a product yourself, even if it isn’t successful, you learn more about product design and how to keep your products functioning longer. A woman who tried to fix her hand mixer but couldn’t open it told us she will look for one that is repairable in the future. A man who successfully fixed his toaster was amazed that it was actually simple! But the most transformative stories are like the woman who came in with a lamp that was her best friend’s. Her friend had died and she came to repair the lamp in honour of her friend. Seeing our “stuff” as stories connected to our lives helps us consume more mindfully.

This week, we travel to Berlin to meet over 150 other repair activists from around the world – from countries throughout across Europe, to the US, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, and Hong Kong (with Australians video streaming in).

We are gathering at this “Fixfest” to exchange experiences, share best practices and discuss how we can fix the earth-destroying throw-away economy that has emerged in many countries, and are emerging in new countries.

At Fixfest, the European Environmental Bureau is releasing a report on the climate benefits of repairing and extending the lifetime of our electrical and electronic products.

According to the European Environment Bureau, extending the lifetime of all washing machines, notebooks, vacuum cleaners and smartphones in the EU by just one year would save the equivalent of taking over 2 million cars off the roads for a year.

The waste and climate crises are global and solutions must be global too.

Around the world, citizen activists, environmental organisations and repair businesses are pushing for “Right to repair” regulation. It looks slightly different in every region, but there are some common themes: design for disassembly and repair, access to repair documentation, support for software and increased access spare parts (even for non-professionals). We need manufacturers to return to making products that are both repairable and durable – and demanding better regulation is the way forward.

While we often think about sustainable food, low-carbon transport and renewable energy when we think of tools to respond to the climate crisis, we need to add repair and wiser consumption to the toolbox.

Repair Café volunteers are doing this each Sunday in Malmö. We are also supporting the growth of repair cafés throughout Sweden. Repair Café is now running monthly in Lund too, and we would love to help start more. We will also continue to connect to the international movement on International Repair Day, the 19th of October, with an event in Lund (Fäladstorget) kl 11-15.

Repair Café Malmö

(written by members: Jessika Luth Richter, Ulf Winberg, Håkan Eriksson, Johannes Domeier, Martin Blomberg)

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