Across the UK, nearly 22 million small items of furniture, more than 11,000 bicycles and over 28 million toys are thrown away each year when they become damaged. Fewer than one in 10 people attempt to repair or restore broken items – despite 42% saying they’d like to learn the skills to do so, according to new research released today by North London Waste Authority (NLWA).
The survey also showed that nearly half (47%) of people disposing of damaged items do take them to the local recycling centre but when they arrive there, nearly half of them throw them in the non-recyclable general waste section. A further 11% admitted to simply throwing these items out with the household rubbish at home.
This ‘throwaway’ culture is having a huge impact on the environment and on the resources and infrastructure needed to manage household waste, for example since 2009/10, the UK has had to more than double its residual waste treatment capacity, which has increased from 6.3 million tonnes to 13.5 million tonnes.
The reasons given by the survey respondents for disposing of items when they’re past their best – either as rubbish or recycling – suggest binning is becoming the default option: 23% say it’s easiest to just get rid of things, 23% say they don’t know what else they can do with them, one in five say it’s cheap to replace them and 7% simply like to buy new things for their home.
In an effort to shift the culture around waste and encourage people to see the value in repairing once-loved objects, NLWA is launching a series of new, free Repair Cafés in north London to help residents breathe new life into items they would normally throw away, all whilst enjoying a tea or coffee and slice of cake.
Repair specialists will be on hand at 21 pop-up events over five months, to provide free repair consultations and training to residents keen to learn how to mend their clothes, fix their bicycle or upcycle a small item of furniture. In addition, upcycling demonstrations will see the experts transform common objects, turning them from unusable, to loveable once more.
Of course, recycling is much better than waste disposal and 36% of survey respondents felt recycling is the right thing to do with broken items. Whilst that may be true for those that are beyond repair (and are recyclable), it is in fact even better to avoid creating the waste in the first place and many common household items can be repaired more easily than people think.
Chair of NLWA, Councillor Clyde Loakes, said: “As society becomes more aware of the impact of our waste on the environment, we believe there is an appetite for moving away from the culture of habitually binning – or even recycling – and buying new. But many of us don’t have the skills to extend the life of household items – only 15% of those we asked in our survey said they had repair skills. That’s why we’ve launched our programme of Repair Cafés – we want to encourage people to see the value in all items and to consider having a go at repairing things before giving up on them.”
The specialists providing training and inspiration at the Repair Cafés will be Traid and Xsazia (textiles), Thrifty’s Retro (small furniture items) and Cycle Confident (bicycles).
Sarah Klymkiw, Education Programmes Manager from clothes waste charity Traid, said: “Sewing skills have been squeezed out of school curriculums, and basic sewing techniques are no longer passed down through generations. It becomes easier to discard and replace than to repair. Repair Cafés bridge this much needed skills gap by building the confidence and knowledge needed to fix on a button, take up a hem or patch a hole in a pair of jeans. By teaching sewing repair skills to others we can extend the wearable life of an item of clothing with all the positive environmental benefits that brings. It also helps save money too!”
Rachel Brunton, Owner of Xsazia, which specialises in repairing clothes, said: “The Repair Cafes are an excellent concept, which can help reduce waste and change people’s view on the value of clothes. I’m really pleased to be involved and show people how easy it can be to repair a tired garment and turn it into something different or more modern, or just make it fit better so it can be worn again with pride and style. It’s not only easy, it’s also fun.”
Kelly Sharp, Owner of Thrifty’s Retro, which specialises in upcycling furniture said: “I believe every community has a responsibility to ensure we do everything we can to improve our local area, to keep it as green as possible and to be responsible for preventing waste. Upcycling can be a very satisfying way of doing exactly that, by turning a piece of furniture that’s perhaps a bit old and worn into something beautiful and desirable. The process of repairing a piece of furniture is extremely rewarding and not as hard as you might think, and simple techniques and a little imagination can work wonders.”
David Showell, Managing Director of Cycle Confident, which specialises in cycle training and repairs, said: “Cycle Confident are happy to be working with NLWA by providing our bicycle maintenance services to the Repair Cafés. This programme provides an excellent opportunity to learn about the way bicycles work and how they can be repaired. It is one of many cycling-related neighbourhood groups and initiatives that we’re proud to be involved with.”
Visit wiseuptowaste.org.uk/repaircafes to find out more about the campaign and get simple tips on how to go about repairing items. North London residents will also be able to register for a 30 minute repair slot online.