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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.

Stett Holbrook

Stett is a senior editor at MAKE with abiding interest in food and drink, bicycles, woodworking, and environmentally sound human enterprises. He is the father of two young makers.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

Contact Stett with tips and story ideas on:

*Food
*Sustainable/green design
*Science
*Young Makers
*Action sports


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Comments

  1. I can’t wait to go tinker around at Maker Faire NY with the Fixers Collective, I love what they represent! Ecological Economics is the future, and one of my favorite parts of the maker movement is how it almost inherently supports this. I’m not very familiar with Herman Daly but I’ve read some of Kenneth E. Boulding’s work. Along with the help of a few other economists he popularized the concept of “Spaceship Earth.” This economic model views the earth and its resources like that of the supplies on a spaceship, finite, quantitative and mostly scarce. I found the Spaceship Idea was very helpful when first learning about (ecological) economics. Its a good model too unless of course we start learning how to synthesize food out of space dust…

  2. Vincent says:

    Thanks for introducing the concept of “Spaceship Earth” to us! Some of us Fixers are quite the fanboys and fangirls, so to hear that we’re an integral part of Spaceship Earth flatters us to no end. See y’all at Maker Faire!

  3. pzelchenko says:

    That 40-60% recycle rate is, almost certainly, extremely exaggerated. Whatever figures are in two digits in any case would be in a jurisdiction like New York City where there is some mandatory recycling program in place. There’s also the question of what exactly gets recycled and how.