Fostering a reuse and repair culture

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The talk is frequently, at the present moment in time at least, about (establishing) a circular economy but such an economy requires much more than just recycling which, more often than not, has become a scam.

It requires first and foremost an approach to reuse, and before that already to refuse, especially when it comes to packaging. Then we need to return to repair and that means that products will first of all be made repairable again, and that is down to industry.

However, all too often all that the idea of a circular economy seems to entail, when one hears the talk, is that things are made and at the end of their lives – and no one seems to think about extending their lives through repairability – they get recycled, as they call it. That is not the way to go.

Learning, once again, reuse, as our parents, grandparents and their parents practiced, in that, when it came to much of the packaging, which in their days was mostly glass, tin and paper/card, it was put to use again rather than thrown.

Glass jar are the prime example here. They were used to store all manner of things and they actually were used as drinking vessels, something that has become fashionable today only that today's drinking jars are purpose made for that job. They weren't in the “old” days. Ordinary glass jar were being used for that purpose and I am sure that the term “let's have a jar” comes from that practice. Working class men, going to the pub, had to provide their own vessels; tankards were only for those patrons who were wealthy enough to be able to afford them.

But I digressed a little. But, we do must take a leaf, or better quite a number of them, out of the book of our ancestors and their ancestors to get some normality into the world again on the level of waste and waste management.

Also, as mentioned already, we must get back to having products that are made to last and which, should anything go wrong with them, can be repaired. In order for that to word we also need the repairmen and -women back, so to speak, for very few are there today who, for instance, can repair a boot or show properly especially when it comes to stitching and sewing seams in leather. Fixing, say, a leather midsole back top the upper is a job few can do today as, as I was told, they don't have a machine for that. It does not, however, require a machine but two bent needles and some waxed thread and, obviously, the skill to actually use those said needles and thread in the proper way.

Not so long ago everywhere there were repairmen and -women for all manner of things and in the German Democratic Republic, often referred to as East Germany, there as a true repair economy in operation with business cooperatives and state-owned enterprises doing nothing but repair. They repaired bed linen, clothes, shoes, electrical goods, bicycles, and everything else we could but think of.

But then again products were made in such a way that they could be repaired and not only by trained professionals; many things could be fixed by anyone a little handy with some tools. But that is just not in the interest of the corporations who want to sell us the same thing over and over again and therefore they design a very short lifespan into the products nowadays.

When it comes to fashion and the fashion industry they are a rather large culprit because clothes are made cheaply – yes, the majority want cheap clothes because they want to change style and whatever every five minutes – by more or less slave labor and definitely child labor in China and countries of the Third World (yes, I am still using that term) to a very low standard more often than not that they don't last more than a few months to a year.

Fine for children who outgrow their clothes quickly but then again in time gone by hand-me-downs were worn by kids. Often passed from one to the other and then further afield even. If those came not from their own older siblings then from older children from family and friends, or the jumble sale. And those clothes also were mended and patched when they got torn. But hey, what about street cred and peer pressures and all that? Some years ago it had to be Adidas, then Lacoste, Fila, Nike, and I have no idea what it is now. Do kids, or even adults, really have to follow the dictates of the fashion industry.

We could go on and on and on about this with many more examples of how things were before the corporations introduced and designed obsolescence into each and every product. Therefore industry must be forced by politics – and us, the consumers – to abandon this practice and return to the production of repairable goods, if we are ever to get anywhere.

This requires action, however, from governments but most importantly from us, the consumers, for we hold the purse strings, literally. If we decide not to buy from those who do not produce according to what we want to buy then they will have to change or go out of business. We are, literally, their masters through our purchasing power and purchasing habits.

© 2022