No time to waste

By Nicole Barton, Cambridge Carbon Footprint 

Cambridge is known as a city of firsts so it was thrilling to part of one a few weeks ago at a Repair Café organised by ourselves and Transition Cambridge, and hosted in the amazing Makespace community workshop. Repairer Guy (pictured below) managed to fix a broken vacuum cleaner by 3D printing a spare part! By repairing rather than dumping, Guy helped save money, diverted a bulky item from landfill, conserved resources and saved the 36kg of C02e emissions that would have been generated in manufacturing a replacement. As organisers we’ve been dreaming about a ‘Super Repair Café’ that could utilize modern technology to push-back against overconsumption and the race towards an ever faster cycle of new, hard to repair and short lived products. Admittedly 36kg isn’t a huge amount, but when we fix a laptop 265kg of greenhouse gases are saved and that’s the CO2e emission equivalent of a flight from London to Berlin! (from Restart’s – Why Repair)

Cambridge Repair Café is only one of over 200 Cafes throughout the UK and over 2000+ worldwide, and the movement is growing by the day, fuelled by people whose values are at odds with those driving the business models of big tech. When you or I think vintage, anytime between the 20’s and 70’s probably spring to mind. Apple defines devices as vintage a mere five to seven years since they were last manufactured, as obsolete after seven and they won’t even service products made five years after manufacture has ended. This must simply not be allowed to become the new normal. Contained within our electrical and electronic devices are rare earths and precious materials needed for wind turbines and other technologies that’ll be essential for the gargantuan expansion of renewables upon which our clean energy future depends.

Community repairers can make a dent in addressing the environmental impacts of our stuff, but swift legislation is needed. The Swedish Government acted to support repair businesses by exempting repairs from VAT and in the UK the real Right to Repair campaign wants to make manuals and spares widely available for at least ten years, to make most repairs achievable with tools commonly found in our homes and wants everyone to have the right to repair.


France is introducing a 1-10 repairability rating label to products, but why stop there? Our power as consumers is huge and QR codes could reveal so much about the energy efficiency, embodied carbon, water use, recyclability and repairability of and product we’re considering buying. Some critics have said that a labelling scheme is too complicated but surely it’s nothing compared to addressing the impacts of the climate crisis? Change could happen quickly – it’s estimated to take around 2 to 3 years for designers and manufacturers to respond to new parameters and guidelines. Momentum is on our side, there is a desire for change and we can ramp up the pressure as consumers to urge manufacturers and retailers to increase the pace. 

This article first appeared in the Cambridge Independent on the 20th of October 2021.