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“Free, Fun and Fixed!” is the motto of the fifth Evanston Repair Clinic, set to take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 27 at Family Focus, 2010 Dewey Ave.
Community members are invited to bring their broken jewelry, small appliances, clothing, bicycles, toys – all of those items that have been sitting on closet shelves waiting for a second chance. Volunteer repair specialists will then bring them back to life with a little help from the donor.
Past Evanston Repair Clinics have seen vintage hot pots and fans, holey jackets, toys, special garments from grandparents, a motorized scooter, vacuum cleaners, a wooden toy train, sewing machines, lamps, can openers, electric tea kettles, umbrellas, jewelry, toasters, rollerblades, and irons all diverted from the landfill and returned to use.
The Repair Clinic, a concept originated in the Netherlands by sustainability advocate Martine Postma, came to Evanston through Beatriz Echeverria. These so-called Repair Cafés have rapidly gained popularity in their 10 years of existence, with clinics now in 1,500 communities worldwide.
A fan of zero-waste living, Ms. Echeverria was seeking a way to bring sustainability, together with community and equity, when her family relocated to Evanston from Barcelona, Spain, three years ago. “Repair clinics are a way of educating people on the reduce-and-reuse aspects of sustainability in a way that’s fun and that saves money,” Ms. Echeverria says. She especially hopes to empower underserved communities and youth. “If we can get kids to come to repair clinics to be mentored by volunteers, they will realize they can fix a toaster or a phone, and they will understand that repairing is accessible to them and that they can make a living out of it.”
She finds inspiration in the Depression-era American proverb, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” and worries that many Americans have lost touch with their self-reliant roots.
“People have forgotten that they can be producers and fixers, that they can be self-sufficient and they don’t only have to be consumers and rely solely on money,” she says. “If you live by that, you save money, you save time in running to the store getting things you don’t need, your house is tidier, your kids are happier, and you build community,” she believes.
Repair clinics are one of the “creative solutions to consumption reduction” that the City of Evanston pledged to support in CARP, the bold Climate Action and Resilience Plan unanimously approved by the City Council in late 2018.
“Developing a Zero Waste Strategy is considered a primary action,” CARP says, citing concerns that Evanston’s current waste diversion rate is “far below its potential,” at only about 20%. The plan, which can be viewed on the City’s website, cityofevanston.org, aims to gradually reduce all landfilled waste to zero by the year 2050 by cutting food, packaging and construction waste, phasing out single use plastics and ramping up composting and other steps.
Ms. Echeverria is working to help the City meet these goals as leader of Waste Not Evanston, a new program of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, https://greenerevanston.org/waste. Under Waste Not Evanston, she plans to host regular repair clinics at Y.O.U. and to offer waste-reduction workshops for neighborhood groups, schools and other institutions.
She also works as a sustainability consultant for businesses and residents wishing to reduce their carbon footprint through following the new CARP goals.
“The idea is to take people one step beyond recycling to reduce and reuse, which are the most important of the three Rs, and also to composting,” she says. The hierarchy that Waste Not Evanston recommends lists “Recycle” as the least desirable “R,” with “Refuse,” “Reduce,” “Reuse,” “Repurpose” and “Rot” (or compost) the preferred choices.
But while fixing one’s own stuff has long been part of a self-sufficient mindset, some corporations are trying to snuff out this money-saving tradition in their quest for the almighty dollar.
One frustration at repair clinics is that “some appliances and electronics are manufactured to prevent home repairs,” says Ms. Echeverria, complaining that many are impossible to open without manufacturer-specific screwdrivers. “If you can’t open it, you can’t tinker, and if you can’t tinker, you won’t learn how to fix it,” she notes.
Many would-be repairers are deterred by stickers that warn, “Warranty Void if Seal Removed or Damaged” – an illegal scare tactic intended to force consumers to pay the manufacturers’ higher repair cost or just give up and buy a new device. Last April the Federal Trade Commission intervened by warning Sony and five other companies that such stickers are illegal under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
To counteract these obstacles, legislators in 20 states have introduced Right to Repair bills this year. State Representative Robyn Gabel of Evanston is a chief cosponsor of one such bill, the Digital Fair Repair Act, here in Illinois.
The hope among repair advocates is that passing a state bill would nationalize a new manufacturing standard, as it did in 2013 when Massachusetts passed an automotive right to repair law to make vital diagnostic and repair tools accessible to independent repair shops. Within months, manufacturers agreed to use the state’s rules as a national standard.
“That’s why today, if your check engine light suddenly turns on, you can go to any of a number of repair shops that compete with each other and dealer service centers,” says Consumer Reports. “Right-to-repair legislation on its own can’t guarantee that local businesses will spring up to fix such products or turn more consumers into DIY-repair whizzes for electronic gadgets. But right to repair can force manufacturers to stop impeding those things from happening.”
Just last month, Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren proposed a national right to repair law for farm equipment. The New York Times editorial board weighed in about the need for an expanded bill that would encompass all electronics. It chided Apple and John Deere for using “aggressive tactics, including electronic locks and restrictive warranties,” and for actively lobbying against state right to repair bills.
“This is unfair to consumers who might be able to obtain, or perform, lower-priced repairs. It’s unfair to independent businesses that might do the work. And it’s bad for the environment, because the high cost of repairs leads people to toss devices that might have been fixed,” the board opined.
One empowering solution is the Wiki-based collaborative repair site iFixit (ifixit.com), which shares instructions and replacement parts for fixing almost anything, from iPhones, tablets, game consoles, computers and household appliances to cars and apparel.
Those reluctant to try repairs at home can always order the parts and instructions from iFixit or a similar site and bring them to Repair Clinic volunteers. And once they learn, they could share that knowledge by becoming volunteers themselves.
“We need anybody who can fix regular household appliances, electronics, jewelry, fabrics including mending or using a sewing machine, bikes to the level of flat tire, loose chain or brakes, or with specialty skills like knife sharpening, book binding, or mending antique china,” says Ms. Echeverria.
Those interested can contact her at email@example.com or at the Facebook group We Build Community – Evanston. True to the motto, “It’s fun for the repair volunteers and for the people who attend, and everybody is surprised because it’s free, she says. “And most of the time it
is fixed, too.”