“Mend over matter” is the motto that inspires Sheridan’s Repair Café. Fixers – Sheridan people with varied do-it-yourself skills – are matched with students and employees with household or electronic items in need of repair. It’s all in the name of sustainability, diverting waste from landfill, and getting the Sheridan community involved. A seemingly straightforward concept, Sheridan is the only postsecondary institution in Canada to hold this type of event. To date, 129 items have been given new life as a result of seven Sheridan Repair Café events.
“We need to go beyond the three ‘r’s of reduce, reuse and recycle and start promoting a culture of repair” – Wai Chu Cheng
Wai Chu Cheng, Sheridan’s Sustainability Coordinator, plays the role of host and organizer of the Repair Café. She comes highly-qualified as she is also the co-founder of Repair Café Toronto. Sustainability initiatives are embedded in Sheridan’s day-to-day operations through Sheridan Mission Zero, which includes becoming a Zero Waste campus by 2020, and the Café works to complement those efforts by curbing the throw-away-and-replace mindset that’s common in today’s society. “We need to go beyond the three ‘r’s of reduce, reuse and recycle and start promoting a culture of repair,” Cheng explains. Trades, craft and design, and engineering programs at Sheridan offer up people with a range of repair skills that can be leveraged in a purposeful way.
Perhaps as significant as the pile of vacuums, toasters, hair dryers, computers, and clothing that would have been sitting in a landfill if not for these events, is the knowledge gained by the 143 participants who have come through the Café. The event is formatted in such a way that the role of a Fixer includes educating visitors on how to repair their item if it breaks again. “I look forward to these events to test my skills and do my part for the environment, but I also want visitors to save their hard-earned money in the future,” says Shamsher (Sham) Main, a long-time Fixer and HVAC Technician in Sheridan’s Facilities Management Department. Even if a Fixer can’t address the problem on the spot as a particular part or specialized skill is required, participants leave knowing next steps to fix their item.
“I look forward to these events to test my skills and do my part for the environment, but I also want visitors to save their hard-earned money in the future” – Shamsher Main
Not only does the Repair Café promote the notion of ‘zero waste’ but it’s run at almost zero cost. Sheridan’s internal vendor Chartwells and the Sheridan Student Union (SSU) are eager to get behind an initiative that benefits the environment and have provided complimentary refreshments for the Café. Fixers are voluntary positions, Cheng’s team of organizers volunteer their time, and there is no fee to participate. “Since it’s not a transactional experience there is a genuine feeling of generosity at these events, which has shown a ripple effect in the school community,” says Cheng. “Fixers feel good about their work and are excited to participate in future events and participants often return as volunteers to ‘pay it forward.’”
In the long-term Cheng hopes that the Repair Café will get people thinking about the importance of buying quality products that will last longer, something she says is catching on in Europe; consumers are holding companies to account and demanding labels that note the life expectancy of a product. Websites such as Buy Me Once are popping up and making it easier to find products that ‘don’t break the bank and the planet.’ Sheridan’s collaborative approach to sustainability through the Repair Café is unique, impactful on the community and an important exercise in changing attitudes to contribute to a greener future.
Pictured at top of page: Fixers Catherine Rinas (left) Shamsher (Sham) Main
Written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.