Photo by Nancy Lo
Michael Freiert, left, and Adam Flood worked on soldering a Roomba vacuum at the January 2013 Fix-It Clinic in Hennepin County, Minn.
For most people, when an item breaks it gets thrown away. Not so in Hennepin County, Minn.
Instead of throwing away broken electronics or appliances, Hennepin wants to teach residents how to repair them at Fix-It Clinics.
The county started offering monthly free Fix-It Clinics in September 2012, inspired by an article in The New York Times about more than 30 “repair cafes” that have sprung up in the Netherlands. The idea has caught on in Brooklyn, San Francisco and Seattle.
Fix-it Clinics are held in various locations around the county, once a month drawing up to 70 people, according to organizer Nancy Lo with the county’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Unit. “They show up with everything from broken antique typewriters to walkers, DVD players and fans,” Lo said.
Residents bring in items such as small household appliances, clothing, electronics or mobile devices and receive free guided assistance from a dozen volunteers with repair skills to disassemble, troubleshoot and fix their item.
Volunteers have skills in soldering, electronics and electrical repair, computer repair, sewing and general tinkering, and have a strong desire to teach and empower people.
"A lot of those skills have been lost,” Lo said. “Too many items are made cheaply these days.”
The clinics have a three-pronged approach: One, a repaired gadget is one less gadget tossed in the trash. Two, residents can learn to do their own troubleshooting and repair work. Three, they get to meet some really smart and generous people.
The goal is to change the mindset of the throwaway economy, where there are fewer shop classes in school, replacement items are fairly inexpensive and most things are more difficult to fix, Lo said.
“It’s not just a drop off and pick it up repair shop,” she added. “The idea is to take ownership of your stuff and learn how to take it apart, troubleshoot and then, hopefully, learn how to fix it.”
Hennepin County is marking the success of the first year of the Fix-It Clinic program. The county has hosted 13 Fix-It Clinics that attracted 638 participants who brought 932 items in for repair. The participants and volunteers worked together to repair 75 percent of the items, preventing more than two tons of waste, according to the county.