No wasters: how to repair a throwaway culture

Ireland’s second Repair Cafe will take place at the end of the month, and companies that are trying to reduce our excessive production of waste are popping up all over

At the Community Reuse Network Ireland pop-up shop on Dame Lane, Dublin, which sells upcycled goods, are the network’s Joanne Rourke, and Sarah Miller of the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun. Photograph: Alan Betson

At the Community Reuse Network Ireland pop-up shop on Dame Lane, Dublin, which sells upcycled goods, are the network’s Joanne Rourke, and Sarah Miller of the Rediscovery Centre in Ballymun. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 01:00

Years ago our parents kept bits of string and paper bags, and had a shed full of stuff that “might come in handy”. My grandmother would rip back a jumper with holes in the elbows to reknit it. The ancient Scrabble set given to us was held together with a piece of elastic – from my uncle’s Y-fronts.

Once again, people are discovering how satisfying it is to repair instead of buying new. Ireland’s second Repair Cafe takes place on June 28th in Sandymount, Dublin 4. The idea is that people bring what needs fixing (clothes, bikes, furniture, electrical goods, and so on) and learn how to repair them. A team of volunteers will help guide novices through the process. Tea, coffee and cakes will help smooth knitted brows.

“It’s really to bring back the culture of repair,” says Claire Downey, who came across the idea in the Netherlands. She works in the waste-management industry, and has “always been really interested in what you can do in waste prevention and reuse”. She says the cafe can show people how easy it is to repair, and can help them “to reconnect with the things we own, to value our possessions more”. The older volunteers enjoy passing their knowledge and skills on to a younger set.

At the first repair cafe, in March, one woman brought in a lamp given to her by her brother. It had stopped working the year he died. “It obviously had a lot of sentimental value,” says Downey.

Tog, a collaborative makers’ space or “hackerspace” based in an old warehouse on Chancery Lane in Dublin, will help out at the cafe. Tog shares knowledge and tools in everything from 3D printing to knitting. One of its innovations is the Twitter Knitter, whereby Becky Yates, a software engineer, has repurposed a 45-year-old knitting machine to knit tweets.

Next door to Tog is a marketing company, and Tog members love scavenging from its waste. One find was a quantity of rubber ducks, which have been fashioned into a Duck Matrix display. “We’re terrible for puns in this place,” says Tríona O’Connell, part of Tog and a PhD research scientist at Dublin City University.


Come on down to Jumbletown was started by brothers Des and David Fitzgibbon eight years ago to divert waste from landfill. It has an upcycling section, where people show and explain what they have done with items that were given away for free. Members are very encouraging of one another.

Before and after photos show the talent that is out there: examples include an old sofa re-upholstered in orange fake fur and embellished with flowers, and an old trampoline that has been converted into a polytunnel.

Des, a former geography teacher, says Ireland’s bad reputation for producing excessive amounts of waste was a motivating factor behind the website. He cites a 2006 OECD report that showed Ireland was producing more waste per capita than any other developed country, including the United States.

When Melissa Byrne, from Portarlington, Co Laois, was ill a few years ago, Jumbletown “really kept me going – it’s a real little community”. She renovated a rocking chair while pregnant to give it a quirky, retro look. “You can look at what other people have done and see what’s possible,” she says.

Before this she never would have considered looking into a skip. Now she will happily ask permission to remove some item that looks promising. “My husband really worries about what I’m going to do next.”

Another Jumbletown member says that “so many people have been left with so little after what’s happened in this country. People are going out and buying a whole lot of junk,” she says, talking about buying sprayed MDF instead of repurposing older, better-made pieces of furniture.

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