Photo Credit: Paul Peloquin
A group of volunteers equipped with glue, sewing machines, and screwdrivers redefined what it means to recycle.
On March 11, volunteers of Repair Clark County, a program for item repairs run by the environmental education nonprofit Columbia Springs, gathered at the Cascade Community Library.
Columbia Springs’ Repair program was originally launched in 2017 inspired by the “Repair Cafes” in the Netherlands. In Clark County, volunteers with knowledge of topics such as sewing, blade sharpening, and mechanical repair all come together at various locations to repair broken items for community members at no cost.
“It’s a very impactful behavior that you can engage with,” Terra Heilman, the Repair Program Coordinator, said.
And while the Repair program moves around and is hosted at different locations, one thing remains constant: waste reduction.
Recycling is often thought of as the repurposing of polluting objects such as plastic containers and glass jars into new materials. However, the volunteer fixers believe recycling means so much more.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that something is not recyclable,” Louis Marteeny, a first-time volunteer, said. “Because it’s all gonna be determined by what that thing is that someone is gonna throw away. I don’t care if it’s a rock or a complicated piece of electronics.”
And things ranging from rocks to complicated pieces of electronics was not too far off a description of what people brought in. The items that found their way into the room varied from colorfully designed toasters and lamps decorated with books, to puffer jackets, garden shears, and bicycles.
Heilman, a former volunteer who has worked extensively in waste reduction, is now the Repair Program Coordinator. “To me, Repair is so important because it keeps us as humans on this planet from having to pull more resources out of the planet to make new stuff to replace the old stuff,” she said.
Repurposing and repairing, rather than repurchasing, was a common talking point amongst the volunteers. A few spoke about the environmental impacts that Repair has on the Earth, and how they wish more would participate. Heilman noted that the majority of the environmental footprint or people’s reliance on the Earth’s resources is accounted for by the first steps in producing a product such as manufacturing, transportation, and extraction – over which, consumers have no control. This is one of the advantages of Columbia Springs’ Repair program, as people can use it to reduce their environmental footprint at the start of this production line.
“If you can delay buying something new by repairing something you already have and giving it extended life, that’s really good for the planet,” Heilman said. Especially considering that while some things can be re-bought, others simply cannot.
Broken items, like participant Angie Mcburney’s necklace, are often accompanied by a story. This necklace contained not only various jewels and stones but also the memory of her friend, a woman who had moved out of state. Mcburney received the handmade necklace as a gift from her friend but recently discovered it was broken. Lacking the resources to repair it, she attended the Repair event on March 11. In under 10 minutes, she headed to the exit with her repaired item in hand, excitedly talking to volunteers about the newly fixed necklace. “When I wear it I get to think of her,” Mcburney said, describing her necklace.
After walking out the doors, Mcburney returned to the back of the line to sharpen her kitchen shears.