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Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

Netherlands' Repair Cafes Curb Consumerism

How awesome is the idea of a repair cafe? Very simply, it is a place you take your old, broken-down items, buy a cup of coffee and get your things fixed so that you can continue using them.

The Repair Cafe which debuted  in Amsterdam two years ago does just that. According to the New York Times, "the Repair Cafe Foundation has raised about $525,000 through a grant from the Dutch government, support from foundations and small donations, all of which pay for staffing, marketing and even a Repair Cafe bus".

Repair Cafes started as a way to curb consumerism. Martine Postma, a former journalist came up with the concept after the birth of her second child, which made her think about environmental issues differently.

She said: In Europe, we throw out so many things. It’s a shame, because the things we throw away are usually not that broken. There are more and more people in the world, and we can’t keep handling things the way we do. I had the feeling I wanted to do something, not just write about it. But I was troubled by the question: “How do you try to do this as a normal person in your daily life?"

Inspired by a design exhibit about design and recycling, she decided on the idea Repair Cafes to help people fix things. For most people, possessions have a sentimental value and they don't want to part with them. Some others would rather fix a broken item than buy a new one. Although the Netherlands only puts less than 3 percent of its municipal waste into landfill, according to Joop Astma,  the state secretary for infrastructure and the environment, there is still room for improvement. With Repair Cafes, people get together to share repair tips and foster an environment that supports sustainability.

These Repair Cafes cater to people who find it too expensive to replace their broken items and at the same time, they also do not try to compete with existing repair shops. The Repair Cafe Foundation provides interested groups with information to help get them started, including lists of tools, tips for raising money and marketing materials. So far thirty groups have started Repair Cafes across the Netherlands, where neighbours pool their skills and labour for a few hours a month to rectify holey clothing or broken appliances. Postma has received inquiries from France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, South Africa, and Australia.

If this idea gets traction, it could be fantastic way to meet people who are interested in DIY, discourage consumerism whilst fostering an environment of creativity.

Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

Read more stories by Akhila Vijayaraghavan