STORY BY BRADLEY NORTHCOTE PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATTHEW BURDITT
Sheridan College’s Office for Sustainability has a message for students, staff, faculty and the community at large: Don’t just replace. Repair!
The Sustainability Office recently held its 8th annual Repair Café, where a team of volunteer fixers showed people how to repair various household items, while fixing some for free. The items included irons, jeans, and computer hardware.
Wai Chu Cheng, Sustainability Coordinator for Sheridan College, says the Sustainability Office holds the café to show students an environmentally-sustainable lifestyle goes beyond tossing stuff into recycling bins instead of the trash.
“If your jeans have a hole in them, you can easily fix them and…use them much longer, so there’s no point in just throwing them out or recycling them.”
Cheng says the café offers a way for people to talk and work in groups and find creative ways to fix their broken items.
Local businesses share a responsibility for sustainable lifestyles, Cheng adds. Some items, such as watches, require specialized technical skills for repairs, so small repair shops can benefit from this change in consumers’ habits.
Matthew Sanche, an amateur repairman and one of the café’s volunteer fixers, agrees. Sometimes though, he says, replacement is a part of repairs.
“[When] certain things get to the end, you need to replace a certain component or part.”
While he has tinkered with household items such as radios before, this repair café was his first. As he sets to work fixing a coffee maker, he says the toughest repairs are those where the problem is unclear.
Other items are easier to fix, but repairs can be costly. This poses a challenge for consumers. “We heard from visitors that…it’s not easy to find fixers for broken household items, or they can be [costlier] than buying brand new [items],” says Cheng.
Consumers also pay when products aren’t built to last. “The problem that we find today is, things are made cheap, or they don’t last long,” says Cheng. “We’d like to have manufacturers make things that can last longer, so that we can hold onto [them].”
Despite these challenges, consumers can benefit from repairing instead of replacing. Cheng says people are driven to a sustainable lifestyle both because they want to be eco-friendly and because it helps them save money in the long term.
Shamsa Kassim, project coordinator at Sheridan’s Facilities Services, says she saved $60 by bringing an iron in for repairs. “Last year, I did the same. I was waiting for this week so I could save some money and reuse it again, instead of just throwing it in the garbage.”
As shown by figures in a StatsCan report this September, Canadians’ household debt ratios hit a record high over the spring. This will leave Canadians looking for ways to limit or cut their debt.
While there are more than 1100 repair cafés in 129 countries, Sheridan College is the first postsecondary institution to host one on campus. It’s part of Sheridan’s “Zero Waste” program, which aims to eliminate waste on all Sheridan campuses by 2020.
The Sustainability Office plans to hold another repair café at the Four Corners Branch of the Brampton Public Library, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, November 12th.