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Singapore generates close to 60,000 tonnes of e-waste every year. To find a solution and, in the process, change the consumerist buy-and-throw-away mindset, Repair Kopitiam, a community of volunteers provide free repairs of everyday household items. These volunteers form a lively community that holds monthly sessions where the public can come and get their items fixed instead of dumping them. All in a bid to save the environment and foster community wherever they go.
Every last Sunday of the month, people from all walks of life in Singapore come together at a Repair Kopitiam event, bringing with them their malfunctioning toasters, broken fans and other faulty home appliances, hoping to give these household items a new lease of life. But this event is more than just a simple fix-it session. It is a mission to create a sustainable world. Repair Kopitiam, wants to get Singaporeans to reset their behaviour by fixing what’s broken instead of just throwing it away, so that they can do their part to protect the environment.
Singapore’s population of 5.82 million people generate approximately 60,000 tonnes of e-waste a year. That’s equivalent to each person in the country throwing away 70 mobile phones annually.
When electronic waste is disposed of, it usually ends up in a landfill. As the components break down, they release toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium and arsenic into the soil and contaminate the groundwater.
REPAIRING FOR SUSTAINABILITY
Repair Kopitiam is an initiative by Sustainable Living Lab that began in 2014. It was founded by Veerappan Swaminathan, a Singapore International Foundation 2019 ASEAN Youth Fellow. They wanted to fight the growing waste problem in Singapore by getting Singaporeans to fix their broken items such as torn garments, rickety furniture, and electrical items, instead of just throwing them away. Shifting from a linear economy, a buy-use-throw approach, to that of a circular economy, where a faulty product is repaired instead of being thrown away.
For some participants, coming to Repair Kopitiam’s event is a one-off outing to get their stuff fixed. Others get bitten by the repair bug and sign up for a 3-month workshop where they learn to tinker with a variety of things.
“We get those who know how to repair to teach those who need the repair, so that this knowledge is being passed down,” says Danny Lim, the Community Innovation Lead at Repair Kopitiam.
For a lot of the volunteers and coaches at Repair Kopitiam, it is simply the joy of being able to revive a broken appliance that keeps them coming back.
“When I was a kid, I used to open up my uncle's cassette recorder, dismantle it and fix it back,” recalls Edmund Ho, a Repair Kopitiam coach. “I have very itchy hands. From young until now, every day, I've been learning how to repair things.”
Not only does Edmund feel a sense of accomplishment when he has successfully repaired something, he also can’t help but feel touched by the sentiments that people have towards the things that he has fixed.
“A lot of the seniors will bring down their own items. And they like the item so much that they say, ‘Edmund, can you please help me to repair that?’ And once I'm able to repair the old appliance, they are so happy. That's the kind of feeling money cannot buy.”
EXPANDING THE KAMPUNG
For their future endeavours, Repair Kopitiam hopes to build a ‘kampung’ (Malay word for ‘village’) within every public housing estate, where residents can help each other fix things in the spirit of neighbourliness.
“There could be a wheelchair bound person who cannot change his own lightbulb, or someone who cannot afford the cost of a repair,” explains Danny. “This neighbour-help-neighbour kind of assistance is actually needed.”
By getting more people engaged in the fix-it movement, Repair Kopitiam hopes to not only serve the community but also help to reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the environment.
About Repair Kopitiam
Founded in 2014, Repair Kopitiam, a volunteer driven initiative, sets up a community repair meetup on the last Sunday of each month where members of the public can bring down their faulty items which Repair Kopitiam’s volunteers will fix free of charge. Their goal is to encourage people to fix things instead of throwing them away, reducing the stress on the environment.