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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Are you part of the repair revolution? 

Nima Abu Wardeh documents the joy she receives from fixing consumer items rather than dumping them and spending money on a new one

Illustration by Gary Clement
Illustration by Gary Clement

I’m a card-carrying member of the repair revolution. At its heart is my right to repair rather than being forced to buy a new, pricey replacement or be prevented from finding out how to fix things. Which is how we brought Joey back to life.

“1.36 kilograms," the woman said as she noted it down. It was the weight of the robot that no longer came to life. Joey is his name. We’ve had him for eight years. He dances, walks, plays and responds to various commands - when he works. You could say he’s given us years of joy and his time is up. But we’d rather not give up on him just yet. Much tinkering later, Joey is back.

When’s the last time you repaired something? My desire to fix things could be viewed as being too mean to part with money. The fact is, it’s often less expensive, and a lot easier, to buy a replacement – with ever cheaper goods being manufactured thanks to globalisation, coupled with the reduced lifespan of products.

As for knowing how to fix things – that’s another story. My son learnt how to sew at the age of seven, can crochet with the finest and is a whiz with screwdrivers and glue. But judging by the clicks on a ‘how to sew a button on’ video tutorial, he seems to be an exception.

His new tech is old tech. Coveted items are my vintage collection of defunct dictaphones and handheld camcorders – they use tape, and need fixing. And it’s been a struggle finding out how. You could say we’re being prevented from fixing them – with parts difficult to get hold of, and not knowing people with the skill to get these obsolete gadgets working.

We’re trained to throw things like this away. It’s not good for the planet or your pocket. But it’s good for business. When I created UAE Saves Week - a grass-roots initiative getting us to think about how we behave with money on a daily basis, with the aim of enabling each other to live beneath our means, and put money aside - I was told repeatedly by the business community that it was a bad thing because it would harm the economy - propped up by consumer spend - if people stopped spending so much.

Which is one of the reasons things aren’t built to last these days.

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Read more from Nima Abu Wardeh:

The obsession with bonds misses the complexity

Buying experiences, as opposed to buying stuff, doesn't make you happier

Could you live without spending for a year?

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Thankfully, there’s a backlash against throwaway culture. People are grouping together to repair things for free. In doing so, they save the planet from tons of goods that can, once fixed, live on and be useful for years. Like Joey.

A repair cafe I know saved us from one tonne of landfill. It has a higher than average success rate with 64 per cent of things taken in being fixed - most such entities manage 50 per cent. These are items that are back doing daily duties instead of piled in a heap poisoning our water and food.

In an attempt to deal with what’s holding us back from repairing and re-using, next month marks the world’s first international fixfest. It’ll be in London over the first weekend in October.

Restart parties worldwide state they’ve saved the planet from 5 tonnes of electrical items being thrown away. Unfortunately it’s projected that we’ll generate 50 million tonens of waste from electrical goods in 2018.

It’s not just broken electronics that fill the land. It’s everything we use. And it’s not only because it’s broken. It could be that we just don’t like, want, use, need it anymore.

A friend told me the zip on her son’s fave jacket is broken. The person with sewing machine at the repair cafe told her it’s a difficult type to fix and suggested she unpick the zip, buy an easier one to repair in future, and go back for her to sew it on. My friend reckons it’ll take her an hour to unpick the fiddly thing. She can’t bring herself to do it. And she’s the one who weighed Joey – she volunteers at her local monthly repair cafe. She is one of the converted, but cannot bring herself to give up an hour of life for something that can be ordered online in a minute.

What’s the oldest thing you own and still use?

I wear dresses bought when I was a teen. Various things I own and use are older than my 10-year-old.

They each have a story, memories, and are precious to me.

It’s not always about saving money, or loving something and keeping it. It’s also about not killing our planet with wanton waste, and keeping skills alive that enable us to fix and fiddle with things.

Back to my little world. The seal around my washing machine door is leaking. I have been on the web to find a new one - seal that is, not machine - and cannot find what I’m looking for. When and if I do, I then need to find, and pay, someone to install it. I will try to do it myself first, but gosh, yes, I am concerned about how long it’ll take and whether I’ll end up doing more harm than good.

It would be easier for me to order a new machine online and have it delivered. But there’s a freedom that comes with knowing how to do these things. Plus that would be one weighty bit of rubbish being dumped if I don’t.

Nima Abu Wardeh is a broadcast journalist, columnist and blogger. Share her journey on finding-nima.com