Repair Café aims to empower us to give our broken things a second life

CHARLOTTE — Over the course of Saturday afternoon, a few chairs, a spinning wheel, a purse, plenty of lamps and printers, and a few fans made their way into Charlotte’s Innovation Barn. Their owners hoped by the end of their session, they’d be able to put them to use once more.

It was the city’s first time hosting a Repair Café, which is an informal meeting dedicated to teaching communities how to fix their stuff.

The movement started in Amsterdam and has spread across the world, with local chapters gathering volunteers to work one-on-one with folks to do some basic mending or troubleshooting their faulty electronics.

Aragorn Kaplan, who volunteered at a few cafes while he lived in California, helped arrange the first Charlotte café.

“Repairs are usually much cheaper than buying a new one,” he said. “And more importantly we’re taking stuff and making sure it doesn’t go into the landfill.”

Every year, the world throws out 50 million tons of electronic waste, and only a fraction gets recycled. Kaplan believes empowering consumers with the skills to care for and fix their favorite things, is one major solution.

At the café, attendees sit down with volunteers through the entire repair process, assisting and learning in the hopes they can make their own repairs in the future.

“I think that in today’s society that knowledge is lost and a lot of people don’t know how to fix things,” Kaplan said. “But every time we throw [a repair café,] the volunteer pool gets larger.”

Ralph Mazza, a retired Navy engineer, has been a frequent volunteer at the Repair Café events in Raleigh. He was visiting his nephew in Charlotte during the first café, and the two of them offered their services on Saturday. Using his experience, he shared his process for troubleshooting based on the information available and offered tips on diagnosing and fixing minor problems.

“What we’re looking for is something that’s obviously broken or disconnected,” he said while working on an attendee’s fan. “My guess is you have a mechanical problem if the motor is running.”

While volunteers cannot guarantee they’ll fix every problem, Mazza said he does his best to offer solutions and suggest ways to source replacement parts if they’re not available on-site.

Saturday’s café saw dozens of attendees and 60 projects come through, with a success rate of about 68 percent. Organizers consider the event a great start and are grateful the Innovation Barn has scheduled three more cafés this year.

The next café is set for May 18.

(WATCH >> Apple: Self-repair in store for iPhone)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.