We live in a consumer culture that encourages us to take the disposability of our possessions for granted. When an appliance breaks or a garment rips, a replacement is just a few clicks away on Amazon. But our consumptive habits have resulted in more garbage than we can fit in our landfills, and an onslaught of plastic is washing up on beaches across the world at alarming rates. E-waste from discarded electronics and appliances is the world's fastest-growing trash stream.
This is what motivated Neal Denton, sustainability specialist for Santa Fe County, to organize Fixit Clinics several times a year. The first of these DIY repair troubleshooting and discovery workshops was held a little over a year ago, and the latest one was May 4 at MAKE Santa Fe, a membership-based community workspace and tool-sharing collective off Siler Road.
"One of the things we are working on is reducing the amount of material going into the landfill," says Denton. Along with a home composting program, the Fixit Clinics began as an attempt to reduce the county's waste stream.
"We are trying to educate people on the value of waste as a resource," Denton tells SFR. "We are trying to teach troubleshooting. Fixing is just the mechanism for critical thinking. … We don't want people to come in every time with their broken items. We want people to pause next time and go, 'Well, I think I can fix that myself.' The mindset right now is, 'It's broken, throw it away,' when it should be, 'It's broken, what's wrong with it?'"
With the right know-how, some basic tools and a healthy dose of curiosity, many of the products we throw away without hesitation are actually relatively easy to fix. At least this has been the case at the Fixit Clinics hosted by the county so far, where Denton estimates that community members successfully fix around 70% of items brought in.
SFR showed up to the Saturday event with a broken lamp. We were paired with Fixit Coach Lieven Van Hulle, who owns a lamp repair shop down the street, and within 10 minutes of buffing connectors and clearing the light bulb socket, the lamp was back in action.
Petra Babankova, whose son brought a ripped trampoline to the clinic, says the family has a culture of fixing things at home—a value she inherited from watching her father troubleshoot repairs on everything and anything. "It felt very natural for us to attempt to fix our things," she says, "but it's really wonderful to have these workshops because between all of the different people, here you have such a wealth of knowledge and all the right tools from MAKE."
Denton says other municipalities, including Phoenix and Albuquerque, have reached out to him with interest in starting their own clinics replicating the Santa Fe model. But he also says access to community tool libraries helps. "We are fortunate in terms of spreading Fixit Clinics that there are maker spaces popping up everywhere," he says.
Maker spaces, tool collectives and independent repair shops are the birthplace of companies like iFixit, a tech repair company that sells spare parts and distributes repair manuals for the most commonly owned phones and computers for free online, and publishes a guide of the 44 most popular laptops, tablets and smartphones ranked by modularity of design—meaning parts can be almost indefinitely exchanged and upgraded and can be repaired with common tools —and the ease of home repairs.
The right-to-repair movement comes against a backdrop of tech companies' push to enforce controversial interpretations of copyright law arguing individuals do not have the right to dismantle and fix their own electronics. John Deere, America's largest manufacturer of farm equipment, has pushed farmers into the right-to-repair movement by arguing farmers have "an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle," but do not actually fully own their tractors—meaning they can be penalized for trying to do their own repairs.
Many companies intentionally design products to have an artificially limited useful life so they slow down or break within a designated period of time. This phenomenon, known as planned obsolescence, was the subject of 2017 class-action lawsuits against Apple for intentionally slowing down older iPhones when a new version comes on the market.
Since the beginning of the 2019, 20 states have introduced right-to-repair legislation that has also made its way onto the agenda of three presidential candidates so far. The same weekend as the local clinic, Bernie Sanders announced support for national right-to-repair laws to ensure farmers can repair their equipment.
But it's not a lefty cause. Though all three presidential candidates to endorse right-to-repair legislation are Democrats, a third of legislation introduced at the state level was sponsored by Republicans, and Libertarian media outlets have covered the issue closely.
"Libertarians and conservatives should work together to enact right-to-repair legislation. … I should have an inalienable right to do whatever I please with my own property without interference from any government mandate or law passed through some corporate protectionist lobbyist," writes Alan Ganon on the blog Being Libertarian.
The next Fixit Clinic hosted by the Santa Fe County Sustainability Office and MAKE Santa Fe is planned for Aug. 3 from 1-4 pm.