Repair instead of recycle

Fixing Factory (Camden). Credit: BBC
The UK is one of the biggest producers of electronic waste in the world, with our unwanted electrical and tech waste accounting for 70% of the heavy metals found in landfills. According to GiffGaff, we have over 50 million unused mobile phones lying around; unsupported by manufacturers who maintain a ‘closed-box’ monopoly over repairs and spare parts, many are forced into obsolescence.

There is change in the air as more of us are demanding sustainability, forcing electronics manufacturers towards an open-box approach instead, increasing each device’s lifespan.
A recent YouGov poll reported an overwhelming 81% of consumers saying they wanted the UK’s 2021 'Right to Repair' legislation covering household goods to be expanded to include smartphones, tablets and laptops. Other studies show people are many times more likely to buy a product when it is promoted as repairable.

Repairable products are not just better for us as consumers, they create jobs. Independent think tank Green Alliance estimates that remanufacturing and repair work could generate employment for more than 450,000 people in the UK by 2035. With support from the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and the Welsh government circular economy team, there are now 50 repair cafes across Wales. They’re all supported by a central team but each local organiser is responsible for setting up and running the cafe in their community.

Two new Fixing Factories, in Brent and Camden, were opened in 2022 by a partnership involving Restart and Possible (climate charities), Mer-IT Digital (CIC) and West London Waste Authority, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. In Brent, they repair donated laptops and tablets and pass them on to people without digital access; in Camden, you can bring in any small electronics and volunteers with fix them, or you can join a repair club to build up your fixing skills. Visitors can volunteer to get work experience and there are workshops about laptop repair, with an opportunity to bring in your own for fixing.

Of course, it’s not just about electronics. The people at R’cyke Y’bike have found a good way to get more people out cycling by saving unwanted bikes from landfill, refurbishing them with a team of volunteers and professional mechanics, then selling them at a fair price or giving them away to people in need.  Whatever you’re passionate about, you can use your skills and experience to cut waste and support social inclusion in your community.
Recyke y’bike, Newcastle upon Tyne Recyke y’bike, Newcastle upon Tyne
Start something new…

There are many organisations across the UK who have great resources and experience to help you start up a repair cafe in your community. Just search online for ‘how to start a repair cafe’ and pick the one that best suits you.

Or if organising a regular cafe seems a bit daunting, why not organise a community repair party instead? These are sociable, one-off events where everyone is welcome to meet, mingle and share in the fun of repairing electronic devices and small appliances. The Restart Project offers plenty of advice about how to do this.

Inspired by doing more with less? Check out lots of great circular economy initiatives.

… or join an existing community project:

Repair cafes are run by volunteers and they always are looking for more people to give some time to help - you don’t have to be good at fixing IT or electrical stuff. Many cafes also repair other items such as clothing and textiles. Given the name, many of them do offer teas, coffees and refreshments and someone has to organise that. The location of many repair cafes around the world can be found here (but it’s not an extensive list) or go to the Repair Cafe Facebook page and ask where your nearest one is.

Restart parties or community repair parties are a fun way to get your electronic or small appliance fixed - for free. These are ad-hoc events where all are welcome to meet, mingle and share the fun of repair. Find out when there’s a restart party near you.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert in repairing or sustainability: a whole range of skills is needed to guarantee the success of projects like these and it’ll also be possible to learn as you go.

Other related community actions: Use less plastic, Borrow don’t buy, Slow down fast fashion

What do we mean by community action?
23 community actions