Edmonton’s first Repair Café was held on Aug. 21 and it encouraged the community to drop by with broken household items that would otherwise be thrown out. 

“The Repair Café is a sustainability and waste reduction exercise,” says Darwin Ma, the project manager and an Edmonton Tool Library board member. The Edmonton Tool Library partnered with Blenderz Garment Recyclers, Waste Free Edmonton, and Bike Edmonton for the event. 

People brought broken items, including bicycles, household electronics, tools, and clothing in for the team of 14 volunteer specialists to repair. 

“The goal is to try to teach the attendee how to repair things,” says Ma, “[but] if they are really not into it, then the volunteer will… do [the repair].” 

Martine Postma, a Dutch environmentalist, started Repair Cafés in 2009. According to an Edmonton Tool Library press release, Postma’s goal was to set up “low-key meeting places nationwide where neighbours could repair their broken items themselves, supported by specialists and in a relaxed atmosphere.” 

The event also brought awareness to the Edmonton Tool Library and helped reduce some of the inventory acquired during the pandemic. “We ended up getting a lot of donations from a lot of people in Edmonton. We… have several hundred screwdrivers, some hammers, a lot of saws from different eras — a lot of saws — and… shovels and other things,” says Ma. Those who attended the event could purchase tools with a donation. 

The Edmonton Tool Library opened its doors for a Repair Café on Aug. 21. | Mya Colwell

The Edmonton Tool Library allows people to try out tools and complete DIY projects by borrowing tools from the library. That way, they don’t have to buy a saw that will be used once and then left in the garage to gather dust. 

Ma says he is frustrated with the garbage we generate in Edmonton and throughout the world, and he is committed to educating others so waste can be reduced. He is also concerned because in his experience, neighbours, either due to nerves, city planning, or culture, don’t feel they can borrow tools from each other. That is one thing, he says, that the Tool Library can help with: strengthening the sharing economy in Edmonton.  

Cathy Jackson volunteered at the Repair Café in the sewing and upholstery station. She decided to volunteer because “I really, really believe that we are too wasteful, and I’d like to encourage people to mend clothes and to repair whenever possible.”

People brought all kinds of items to mend, including shoes, dog toys, a shower curtain, and a backpack. 

“I’d like to… teach people how to [mend] because people can learn these skills,” Jackson continues. That can be as simple as learning to sew on a button.

“I’m really interested in sustainability and not throwing things away, making them last,” says Tania Sarkar, who also volunteered at the sewing station. “The cool thing is, I met like minded volunteers [at the event.] They’ve got some really interesting skills, so I think I even learned some things with them here.”

“I think it helps people realize that they can recycle and reuse things. You don’t have to throw them away,” says Gerry Desilets, another volunteer. 

Gerry Desilets sharpens paring knives at the event. | Mya Colwell

The Edmonton Tool Library might run more Repair Cafés again, especially if the interest and community support are there.