Better than recycling? Repairing!

Some of us might feel like they do their part when they recycle. However, repair and reuse come before recycling in the circular economy model as they positively impact the environment. This is why the Interreg NWE SHAREPAIR project ‘Digital Support Infrastructure for Citizens in the Repair Economy’ has been working on promoting those eco-friendly practices.

On International Repair Day – the third Saturday of October each year – local collaborative Repair Cafés welcome those with broken appliances to fix in a co-creation spirit. In Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve, two Belgian cities involved in the SHAREPAIR project, you could book a repair slot online or just show up for help on the day. “Registrations allow us to make sure repairers are numerous enough and bring the right tools”, tells Simon Frémineur from the Repair Together network which supports 170 repair cafés in Wallonia (BE), and is a partner in SHAREPAIR. The travelling repair café designed by Simon – which includes a welcome desk, a repair area and of course, a coffee space – has triggered interest elsewhere in Europe and is expected to be duplicated in Luxembourg. “180 objects have been repaired so far, and by extending devices’ lifespan, waste was reduced by half a tonne”, Simon details. The 2021 edition of International Repair Day attracted local media and politicians, with Walloon Minister for Environment Céline Tellier praising Interreg NWE’s project which was showcased on the Ottignies Louvain-la-Neuve Grand Place. “Citizen initiatives are key to fighting against waste & built-in obsolescence” she stated. SHAREPAIR indeed aims at decreasing Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (also known as WEEE) – which is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the EU – by scaling up repair initiatives.

The opportunity to meet physically last autumn was gladly received by Lieve van Espen from the city of Leuven, Lead Partner of SHAREPAIR. “There was a sense of community which is harder to build and maintain online” she admits. Covid-19 had an impact on the project which had just started during the pandemic when Repair Cafés were closed due to the pandemic. “We moved to online platforms which attracted new users, including younger volunteers. This was a silver lining to have them engaged with the project”, Lieve explains. During lockdown, the project offered those with an appliance to fix the possibility to find online a volunteer repairer who could guide them step by step in the repair process. “Sharing knowledge is a cornerstone of our approach”, Simon asserts. The consortium is developing a mapping tool which will list all nearby repair possibilities (from professional and volunteer repairers to Repair Cafés), and guide users in their decision making based on the information they provide (whether their item still under warranty etc.). The average repair rate in Repair Cafés is 60% so professional repairers are very much complementary. When repair is not possible, repurpose or redesign are options or recycling as a last resort. The platform will be open source so that it could be picked up by any city throughout Europe and adapted by inputting the relevant local data on repair possibilities.


The SHAREPAIR project gathers 17 partners from Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK, and has a budget of 7.84 million euros over 4 years. Matthieu Leroy, working for the House of sustainable development of Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve and new to Interreg projects, sees their added value in the collaboration between entities with different working cultures. “The benefit of transnational cooperation lies for us in the expertise each partner brings”, Lieve explains. For example, higher education partners are mostly involved in 3D printing of spare parts. The objective is to integrate 3D printing to services offered by Repair Cafés and mainstream their use. A database of designs to enable spare parts 3D printing is under development and SHAREPAIR’s set of digital tools is expected to be released in 2022.

The project could not be timelier according to its Lead Partner. “People are in the right mindset as they are moving away from throwing away and buying new”, Lieve explains. SHAREPAIR is promoting the right to repair with two partners (The Restart Project and Repair & Share) fighting built-in obsolescence and bringing the issue to the political level with the ambition to influence policy making. The project wants to shed light on how resource-intensive the recycling industry is (in terms of energy consumption, transport…), as opposed to repair opportunities which contribute to fighting climate change. There is momentum for such initiatives at EU level, as the European Green Deal and its Circular Economy Action Plan demonstrate. It is not only about changing individuals’ behaviour but manufacturers’ as well. A challenge for SHAREPAIR is to unlock access to devices’ data which producers tend to keep secret, and have them design products which can be repaired and make the information on how to available. New national legislation could open up access to spare parts hence the need for lobbying. “There is a need to gather knowledge on broken appliances in a bottom-up approach to not solely rely on manufacturers’ data” Matthieu Leroy insists. Ultimately, the aim is to have companies take the environmental impact of a product into consideration during the design and contemplate rental rather than sales business models. In 2021, IKEA tested a furniture rental service in six European countries and is evaluating it now.

With its integrated approach encompassing both physical and digital activities, SHAREPAIR positively impacts the North-West Europe territory. The project contributes to meeting governments’ targets in terms of reuse and waste prevention, with a reduction of over 27.5 tonnes of WEE yearly in each participating city. Furthermore, SHAREPAIR strengthens circular economy locally by encouraging the creation of Repair Cafés which will then recruit volunteers (which are over 10,000 across North-West Europe). In Leuven, connections with the social economy are established since Repair Cafés and second-hand shops offer employment opportunities for people who have been out of the job market. Repair Cafés also support social cohesion as they provide neighbourhood residents with a place to meet, exchange and help each other out.

In the long run, SHAREPAIR’s goal is to make urban Repair Cafés durable and roll out their model to more rural areas. In addition, partners are busy developing a business plan to ensure SHAREPAIR’s digital tools can live on after 2023, when the project is due to end.

A chance for all to save money - and the planet.


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