Iconoclastic economist Herman Daly helped popularize the term “steady state economics.” It’s a concept many makers are already familiar with whether they know it or not. You can read all about it here, but at its essence steady state economics is a closed loop system that mimics nature in that it does not need new inputs or materials to keep running. It runs at a steady state and doesn’t grow lest it overshoot the carrying capacity of the natural resources on which it depends. Repair, repurposing, and recycling are what make the system work.
Of course, we live in the opposite system, one that requires new resources to build new things to replace last year’s model and all the stuff we throw away because it’s broken or out of style. One of the features of this model is “planned obsolescence” It’s a great system for getting people to buy new products, but it’s not so great for the planet (see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, landfill leachate, and climate change for examples).
But like I said, many makers already know the virtues of repurposing and fixing “broken” stuff. One of my favorite examples is the humble Fixers Collective. They describe themselves as an “ongoing social experiment encouraging improvisational fixing and mending and fighting planned obsolescence.” The New York-based group gets together to fix broken appliances and electronics and to give them a second life. The project began as an art project in 2008, but lived on when participants realized they liked the experience of getting together to fix stuff and teach others.
The Fixers Collective will be returning to Maker Faire New York this month. They invite attendees to bring their broken stuff and learn how to fix it. But Vincent realizes many people don’t want to lug broken appliance to the fair so they may also have appliances on hand that people can take apart to see how they work and what’s inside.
Program director Vincent Lai says reusing or fixing objects is often better than recycling, citing figures that only 40 to 60 percent of recycled material avoids the landfill. Beyond that, he says it’s fun to watch the “eureka moment” when participants pull the chain on a formerly broken lamp they learned to fix themselves.
Even if you aren’t ready to embrace stead state economics it’s empowering to know you can fix that old toaster or lamp sitting in your garage. The Fixers Collective can show you how. While the Fixers Collective is based in New York, there are other likeminded groups all over. Here’s a map.