Episode 15: You're a Bit of a Fixer-Upper

Welcome to 3 Changes a Week: your weekly update on how to save the planet.

Hopefully by now you’ve greatly reduced the amount of single-use materials and packaging in your life. You’re armed with your shopping bags, coffee cups and water bottles – but you’re still throwing things away. That’s because – although it takes up a large proportion of it – single-use materials aren’t all that end up going to waste or to landfill. Sometimes much-loved and much-used items do reach the end of their life, too.

However, there’s several steps we can take to stop this becoming a problem. Firstly, we can buy products built to last – for example, my hefty stainless-steel water bottle should last me a lifetime. It’s got no small parts which could break, and it’s pretty much indestructible (unless I lose it – which is what happened to the last one…). Go for solid materials that will stand up to wear and tear, and choose good quality.

We can also go for natural materials that will have as little impact as possible on disposal. Choose clothes in (organic, where possible) cotton and similar. Bamboo is becoming increasingly popular as it grows fast, so is cheap and sustainable and grows easily, so there’s barely any need for fertilisers or pesticides. When you do have to inevitably get rid of garments, dispose of them responsibly, for example by recycling them.

Thirdly, we can also extend the life of products as much as possible. Society has been shaped around the idea that it’s easier to just ‘ditch it and buy another one’ but that’s not necessarily true – and it’s certainly not true for the planet in the long run! Make sure you treat your items well, like storing or washing them correctly, and then when they start to get damaged – fix them!

For example, I have a great pair of jeans (also second hand, so doubly great!) but the zip stopped working recently. I was annoyed; I thought that was the end of them. However, a quick search revealed that around the corner was a tailor that offered zip replacements for £10. Much less than a new pair of good quality jeans! Dropping the jeans off at the shop was much easier than searching around for a new pair of jeans that fit, too.

In the spirit of my jeans, I’ve rounded up three things that can be fixed instead of thrown, and how to do it. At the end of each section is also a note about when you really should dispose of stuff (unfortunately most things won’t last forever) and how to do this in the most responsible way you can.

 

1. FIX CLOTHES AND SHOES

Ease: ***** to **

Cost: Tailor around £10, shoe repair £20

As above, this is what inspired me to fix as much as I could. If you have a pair of jeans with a zip that doesn’t work, or maybe something you don’t wear because it doesn’t fit well, the fantastic tailor I used was City Tailoring and Alterations in the centre of Exeter and I definitely recommend them.

You can also do simple fixes yourself. Keep a needle and thread handy (at university I keep mine in a small tin) and learn how to sew on a button or mend a seam that has come loose. If you have a little more time and skill, you can also learn how to darn socks (exciting, I know!) and make patches for holes, or to cover holes with embroidery. Decorative embroidery on jeans is in fashion now anyway!

 

As for shoes, these can often be repaired over and over. In Exeter, try Timpsons in Guildhall for shoe repair and re-heeling. If you have good quality shoes, that cost a bit to begin with, re-heeling will probably be very much worth it. You can also buy new laces if these break or fall apart.

Despite all these efforts, things will sometimes reach the end of their life. If you can, consider making a garment into something else – the classic example is cutting off jeans into shorts when the knees wear through. But if not, either cut up old fabrics like t-shirts to make cleaning or washing up cloths, or take the clothes to a textile recycling bank.

 

2. FIX ELECTRONICS

Ease: ****

Cost: varies

Electronics are another major issue, especially as these contain many rare materials like gold and tungsten that we really can’t afford to waste. Trying to extend the life of electronics is very important, even though there is constant pressure to have the newest model. If you do want to regularly update your phone, try and make sure that the older model continues to be used, either by giving it to a friend or family member, or selling it on second hand at stores or on eBay.

When using your phone, treat it nicely! Get it a case and a screen protector and try not to drop it down the loo. I use glass screen protectors, rather than plastic, and they work very well, but I have also seen this Pela zero-waste screen protector fluid being advertised. It’s currently too expensive for me, but it’s definitely exciting option for the future.

The simplest solution is take it to a professional. If it’s under warranty, don’t hesitate to get them to send it off (and cross your fingers that they do try and fix and don’t just give you a new one). There are many, many businesses that can breathe new life into old electronics, be it a broken screen or missing parts or some inexplicable ailment. There is an iRepair electronics repair store on Exeter University campus in Devonshire House, or one on Fore Street if you're closer to town.

 

If you’re feeling optimistic, you could try fixing the items yourself – although I wouldn’t recommend this for complex issues. Touchscreens, especially smartphone ones, can be replaced at home – just search online for a replacement screen, and on YouTube for a video on how to do it. However, this seems to be getting harder and harder with newer models.

If there’s no salvaging it, make sure you recycle your electronics. You can read an article on how to recycle mobiles and why it’s important by Treading My Own Path here. In the UK, she lists how you can recycle phones at Oxfam, in-store or through their by-post recycling schemes. You can also drop them off in some phone stores – just ask! Fonebank, the same company that helps Oxfam recycle, will also pay you to recycle your old phones.

 

3. SUPERGLUE. EVERYTHING.

Ease: *****

Cost: about £2

I hope you don’t think me lazy, but this last one is a bit of a catch-all. A top-tip is to always have some superglue, maybe a bit of duct tape (just don’t use too much) on hand to fix every other little thing that goes wrong. Anything that has parts which can fall off can probably be glued back together with superglue. Recently I’ve repaired a bit of my food processor, a mug handle, a banister, and a pair of sunglasses. My rule of thumb is, if it looks even slightly possible it would work, try gluing it before you throw it away.

 

Made these changes or already doing them? Tag your pictures to #3changesaweek and spread the word!