Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Repair - The Fourth R Of Environmentalism?

In efforts to reduce our impact on the environment, by using less to make things and discarding less things, we have all become accustomed to the phrase "reduce, reuse, recycle" which is sometimes referred to as the three Rs (much like the old "reading, 'rtitng, 'rithmetic of education). It just hit me though that there is another R missing - one for Repair.

I guess semantically repairing could be considered part of Reusing, but to me Repair is a more personal, immediate, and active process than reusing which typically means that someone else is doing the using now instead of you. Reusing usually implies passing the item on so someone else can and will use it versus you re-using it, or using it for a different purpose - what is often called 'upcycling' these days. It could also have been left out of the program because whoever developed it thought it was a common practice, or inherently understood.

But let's take a look at what makes Repair it's own piece of the puzzle an why it should be promoted as much as the other three Rs.

When following the principle of Reuse we most often think of donating an item to a place like Goodwill, Salvation Army, Habitat Restore or another organization that will use it for themselves of for their clients (like donating an old suit so another man can wear it to an interview.) With apologies to charitable reuses, the inherent problem to this is you are relying on whoever you passed it onto to use it - it has to be bought from the store for example. The item could be out of fashion or just not fit, it may be in too much disrepair, the reasons are numerous why something passed on may in the end be passed on again or even discarded which we were trying to avoid in the first place.

If we repair something to keep using it ourselves we are assured that it will, in fact, continue to be useful. The lining of your suit is coming undone? If you still like everything about it - it fits, the style is good - just take it to a tailor and have them fix it then you can keep using it. A bigger example with more impact is cars. In our disposable society it seems we are less and less devoted to our vehicles, becoming jaded thinking they only last a certain time before they become undrivable "It's too old", "It has too many miles", "The warranty is up - they design them to break after" - yet there are plenty of old vehicles kept running.

As part of the vintage motorcycle community and owner of one antique bike (and hopefully another vintage to antique one soon) I fully appreciate keeping something 'old' and beyond its expected usage running. Now many or most of these motorcycles would be considered reused or recycled (there's a pun there) since they are normally obtained from someone or somewhere else other than having kept it yourself, but there are those who simply keep repairing their old bikes and keep them running forever. As part of the community, and my love for vintage motorcycles and keeping them running and useful, I am part of a group of people creating a new vintage motorcycle street festival May 17 - the Brewtown Rumble. If you want to see some of the best examples of 'upcycling', come check it out whether you like motorcycles or not. A motorcycle takes up less space and uses less gas than a car and with their simplicity can be kept running more easily and affordably for longer and when people customize them, or upcycle them, they can change the style and purpose taking for example a touring motorcycle and changing it to a city bike, changing a street bike to an off-road one, and so on.

Before & After, or rather After & Before, of steps raised
Here's another recent personal example. The front stairs to our house are concrete sections and the lower half had sunk quite a bit in recent years. My wife and I debated how to handle. We thought it looked too much for 'mudjacking' so we considered taking them out or just going right over them with new stairs. Either way we would require materials to build new ones and possibly have to discard the old stairs somehow. But as we looked at them we realized the steps themselves were in good shape so why not just check and see if possible to raise them up? We had Concrete Raising Corp come out and look and they were able to raise them up. In the end Repairing them saved money and materials, it cost less to repair than what we would have needed to build new ones, and we avoided having to use up more resources to replace what were perfectly sound steps. You can see the results to the right.

Though we may cringe at the thought of the personal labor or money to repair something, and the shiny new thing captures our eye, in the end it usually is less expensive and less of a headache to repair something. Say your oven is on the fritz. If you were to get a new one, it may have a few bells and whistles more than your current one, but you have to go shopping for it, you have to get it delivered, you have to get rid of the old one somehow. Compare that to having a repairman come and spend an hour or two to fix it.

I could go on with more examples, but I hope you can see how repairing things can be not only better for the environment, but better for you as well than even trying to apply one of the other Rs to it. Repairing can in fact encompass two of the other 3 Rs: Reducing by not buying something new which means not needing more resources to make the new on and Reusing by continuing to use it yourself. So please consider repairing things in your life rather than ditching them, it could be one of the most effective Rs.