Tool set

013: Repair something

Cost of taking action: £/$/€ LOW or SAVES MONEY

Generally, especially in the West, we live in a throwaway culture. Many things are inexpensive, easy to obtain, and have a limited lifetime. This is especially true of plastic items, which once broken are often deemed unrepairable, or unsightly if repaired.

The effect of this is that we dispose of “stuff” that could and should be repaired, repurposed, or “upcycled”. In fact, we dispose of items in their billions every year. Some is recycled of course, but much is either not recyclable, or is disposed of incorrectly, resulting in an enormous contribution to landfill around the world and a drain on our natural resources as we replace things.

So, our challenge to you is to repair (or repurpose) something that you or someone in your family would otherwise throw away.

There are a few rules though ….

  • Safety is paramount! If you use tools make sure you follow instructions, ask permission, or take guidance
  • Mains electrical repairs should be carried out by electricians, so these are not part of the challenge
  • Be careful about any paints, cleaners and other fluids you use, both from a safety and an environmental perspective
  • Waste and genuinely unfixable items should go into the waste system properly
  • Take the opportunity to learn how things work and to develop new skills and crafts

What could you repair?

Here are few ideas of things that often get discarded but that could be repaired:

1. Shoes

Shoes can often be cleaned and restored rather than being thrown away. Invest in leather restorer or suede cleaner, replace buckles or straps, or touch up damaged heels for example. If you can’t fix them yourself, a cobbler can replace soles and heels several times, and the cost every time will be far less than new shoes.

2. Hiking and trekking gear

Tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, and other outdoor gear is expensive. When equipment takes a knock or tear, look into whether it can be repaired. You can patch a hole in your tent, replace the fill in a sleeping bag, or fix the buckles or straps on your backpack. Some companies will even repair worn or damaged items if originally purchased from them, it’s worth asking.

Sewing hands

3. Clothing

When buttons go missing, a seam splits, a zip fails, a jacket lining gets torn, or the hem on your trousers (that’s pants to our American friends) drops, take to needle and thread. It’s an obvious landfill-saver and a big, big money saver too. As you learn more through making repairs, you’ll become more able to rescue damaged items (or even make your own!)

4. Furniture

Loose legs and worn or torn upholstery don’t mean it’s time to put a piece of furniture in a skip. Well-made furniture is often worth saving, especially if it has sentimental value or you still like the look of the piece. Even cheap chipboard furniture can often be repaired, cut down in size, repurposed, repainted or moved to a more utilitarian use. A bathroom cabinet becomes a tool rack in the shed, for example. With patience, wooden furniture can in fact be beautifully repaired and even improved, plus you will learn new skills and get satisfaction from using something you have rebuilt yourself.

5. Appliances

A new appliance or gadget can cost hundreds. Often repairs can be done with a bit of thought and research, or if needed by calling in a tradesman. For example, replacing a heating element or door gasket on a washing machine is much more affordable than replacing the appliance. Broken vacuum cleaners, power tools, lawnmowers, and sewing machines may also be fixable.

However, see our rule above about electrical repairs. Don’t mess around with mains cabling and non-user replaceable parts in electrical goods unless you are fully competent or qualified to do so. Repairs don’t have to be complicated – for example good quality duck tape might be all that is needed to make a split vacuum cleaner hose good again!

6. Jewellery

Fine jewellery and watches may need to go to an expert, but costume jewellery can often easily be repaired or repurposed, even if only then to be used for party wear.

Teddy bear and child

7. Toys

Wooden toys can usually be repaired with good quality glues and a little patience, plus perhaps the learning of a new skill again. Basic woodworking tools are not massively expensive and again, if you find yourself enjoying improving things, you could invest in more equipment later and take on bigger repairs. Plastic toys are unfortunately not always so easily repaired but good glues and patience can still do the job.

8. Bicycles

Amazingly, over 10,000 bikes are binned (i.e. end up in landfill) each year in the UK alone. Imagine the numbers around the globe! Bikes should be cleaned up and repaired to either be used again by the owner, or sold on. Learning about the way your bike works – brakes, gears, chains, suspensions, forks – and is put together is a great skill to have too, and it’s a hobby that can bring friends together. Parts are far cheaper than buying a new bike. Be sure your newly repaired bike is safe before going out on the road though.

9. A million other things, tell us in the comments section below!

Why is this important?

The benefits to us all of repairing items and trying to move away from our damaging throwaway culture are four-fold.

Firstly, the environment and climate change. Extracting resources and manufacturing new gadgets creates lots of damage and carbon. For example, did you know that over 4/5ths of an iPhone lifecycle’s carbon footprint is in manufacture, not its use? Industries making and shipping new gadgets across the sea uses a large amount of fossil fuels, and anything we can do to reduce demand will improve this.

Waste lorry

The environmental benefit, as mentioned above, are also massive when we consider the impact on landfill. Landfill is expensive, damaging, unsightly, polluting, dangerous to our wildlife, and the degradation of dumped material is slow or non-existent.

Secondly, repairing things saves money – a real no-brainer. Making things last longer saves you money simply because it means you don’t have to buy new things. However, we do all know that many products today aren’t designed to be repaired, and repair industries have become small and expensive. So when buying things in the first place, look for those designed to be repairable, and learn how it’s done.

Thirdly, it helps to tackle other ethical issues. Our throwaway society, especially in it’s consumption of toys, gadgets and clothing, is a contributing factor in worker exploitation, health and safety shortcuts, child labour, other human rights abuses, resource abuse, corruption by industry, poverty, and increased inequality.

Fourthly, it can be immensely satisfying to work to fix, build, repurpose or restore something and then be able to use it again. We can benefit from improved skills and experiences, share our hobbies and stories, and even improve our mental health by doing things with our hands.

So repair, learn, re-use and enjoy.

Further reading

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