The cellar of the family apartment is fully squatted. A bric-a-brac of toasters, dusty vacuum cleaners and severed headphones. “When grannies do not have time to finish repairing or it is a little too complicated, I collect the objects and try to do it later”, explains Cyprien Gay in front of the pile, before moving on to the neighbor cellar, also involved … With Caroline Lemoine, he initiated the Repair Café in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, created three years ago.
We find everything you need
“There is not always coffee,” Caroline warns straight away. But the principle is simple: you come with your broken device, you can find everything you need to repair it: tools, spare parts, and above all patient and jack-of-all-trades volunteer repairers. And all this for free. “At the cost of the toaster, going to a professional repairman who will cost 30 euros, that doesn’t make sense. Here, we can spend 3 hours on a device to save it from the dumpster. We have another relationship to time and consumption, ”continues Caroline.
Covid requires, the doors of the town hall which welcomed them every week have been closed since March. So the Repair Café in the 5th arrondissement takes over all the places it can: Caroline’s living room, Cyprien’s cellar, but also the parquet store in Jianhua, in the 13th arrondissement. On Saturday afternoon, the Repair Café will meet up there. That day, Christine arrives with a manicure device and a straightener bought in Brazil fifteen years ago, both stranded. “He blew the lead in my house,” warns Christine. Unsurprisingly, he also blows them up at Jianhua’s house. “On this kind of low-end device, a circuit with resistors is missing, so it goes directly through the current,” explains the latter, inspecting the guts of the straightener.
“The first difficulty is to open”
The principle is to do together. But this time, Christine, “rather handyman”, contributes little, but listens attentively, follows step by step all the maneuvers. “On small parts, it’s quite complicated to work with several people. The first difficulty is opening, it can take a long time, ”explains Pierre, 64, a volunteer repairer for two years. Plastic works or breaks. “Not a single manufacturer does the same thing, there are fewer and fewer visible screws because, aesthetically, it is not very pretty. So we adapt and sometimes, we force it, ”he continues.
Dialogue, exchange and work together, that ended up coming first for me. Caroline
Usually, Christine watches tutorials on YouTube to try to find the fault. “But there I reached my limits. And then there is something here that cannot be found on the Net: the exchange. “Dialogue, exchange and work together, it ended up coming first for me,” Caroline continues. Because in front of a completely dismantled hair straightener, we talk about everything: from the use value and the free through the planned obsolescence: “Very clearly, there are badly designed things from the start. Is it done on purpose? I don’t know, ”answers Cyprien.
420 tonnes of waste less
Created in 2009 in the Netherlands, Repair Cafés are spreading. There are 2,000 of them in the world. In 2019, they avoided 420,000 kilos of waste, according to the international association. “This equates to roughly a Boeing 747 loaded with passengers, cargo and fuel! “In Paris alone, there are about fifteen, 60 in Île-de-France. On the hit parade of repaired appliances: “Toasters, kettles and vacuum cleaners: small household appliances”, lists Cyprien.
I have the impression that we are starting to realize that we have to change our behavior. Chantal
Here, we strive not to throw. “I have the impression that we are starting to realize that we have to change our behavior. Three or four years ago I was not doing repairs. I couldn’t find a repairman or with paid quotes. I had the reflex to buy back if it didn’t work anymore, ”says Chantal, who came to repair an oil bath radiator. She says she “knows nothing about it.” But is happy to learn ”. On his breakdown, Gil gives him a hand. Since he was a kid he always “opened all devices, with random success.” It’s kind of my passion. I like to understand the mechanisms ”. If it always seemed obvious to him that “we only had one planet”, he admits having “more difficulty in getting the message across to teenage girls. By repairing, we limit what we take as a resource ”.
A logic of deconsumption
Who comes to the Repair Cafés? A little everyone. “We have young people between 18 and 25 years old. But the bulk of the troops are between 40 and 70 years old, ”explains Cyprien. Some come because they cannot afford spare parts. “But we are staying in the 5th arrondissement…” he recalls.
It must be said that, “for a long time, repair was reserved for a minority who could buy good quality brands with parts available”, comments Alma Dufour, overproduction campaign manager at Friends of the Earth. Especially since independent repairers are disappearing en masse. A silent hecatomb. Between 2010 and 2016, 6,000 of them closed shop.
So places like this open a new path. “In an investigation released during confinement, for the first time, half of the respondents said they wanted to adopt a logic of deconsumption. The questions of “sobriety” are democratizing “, continues the activist.
At the Repair Café, Cyprien and Caroline are well aware that they are acting “on a very small scale”. But when you hear the mechanical sound of a manicure machine or when you feel the heat of an aging radiator again, “it’s a huge source of pride. There is something very rewarding about it, ”explains Gil. And that Saturday, the little hands of the Repair Café revived four devices.