Joel Newman, a recent PNCA graduate came to me about 2 years to chat about needs in the reuse arena. We talked about the wild world of combating obsolescence and he settled his interests towards repair. I couldn't be happier to see the fruits of his labors with his final thesis. At http://www.portlandrepairfinder.com you will see the beginnings of a comprehensive directory of repair resources. As you can see in the graphic below, the number of people with repair skills across material or product has plummeted. Grandpa who knew how to fix the radio isn't around anymore either. It's like dying languages, once the people that know how to fix things pass away, there goes whole worlds of skills. But this project is a happy story about the revival of the fixers, about connecting those who understand the value of materials and want their stuff fixed. So if you or someone you know like to know how to fix stuff, or want to continue the lifespan of your gear, please support local people who keep things going and add your handy dandy name to the list if you are one of the lucky ones who learned a repair skill. I've decided to take steps to get better at sewing and welding so I have something to bring to the table.
I'm noticing a lot more businesses moving into this direction by contracting with other businesses or vendors to fix their product or take it and fix it to resell in a different market. More blogs on this soon.
It's getting easier to give a damn people! Thanks be to those that create systems to make it easier for the rest of us.
I'm revamping a 30-year-old Nationwide trailer into a mobile sauna/camper I call "The Freedom Capsule"_. This has been a 6-year dream, and finally, the pieces and people showed up to make it a reality. I mention this personal project on a business blog because I always learn something valuable about the reuse/recycling markets with my art/building projects.
This time, the lesson was at the Pick n' Pull and the Wild Cat Mopars both parts dealers, or junkyards. This is an old idea and a simple system of reuse, but what struck me this time, was how this process could be more effective to increase reuse and my service experience. I saw a job creation opportunity that I think would pencil out. Instead of me going in with my tools to pull parts myself with no incentive to be careful not to ruin other parts, I would have loved to browse what parts were available and/or already pulled for me either in person or online. Wild Cat was close to this model of service. You could walk their organized and interesting yard and point out the part you wanted to them and they would remove it for you with much more skill and finesse. They did this for people calling them from around the world and had a robust online business.
The difference between the services provided by these two organizations shows in my experience observing them that more reuse, jobs, and revenue are created when the service model is just right. For example, I pulled a triangle window from a 1967 Volvo, but my design changed and now I don't need it, but I can't take it back. So if I needed to get rid of it I would have to spend a lot of time to recoup my money or give it away. This shows another missed business and waste saving opportunity through a simple smart service redesign. Many businesses and organizations will say they don't have time for any changes to their systems, but that is like saying you don't have time to stop and refill your gas tank but you want to keep driving.
This is a simple example but I hope it gets you thinking about tweaking your service design to build in less waste and hassle by looking at who is ultimately incentivized to care about your assets and what risk can you and should you manage. Do it yourself isn't always the answer, especially if you are caught in not seeing your service process from the angle of a new customer.
I work part time with an environmental art organization dedicated to waste reduction. Part of my work with them is to curate materials that people would like to donate to artists. Metro government has a reuse line (503 234 3000) that allows Portland people to call in and get help on where to take their stuff they would like to recycle. Occasionally, there are pieces that are perfect for artists to use such as old instruments or dental office teeth molds. If this is the case, people call me to have help to connect to artists. Talking to people about their unique waste streams is interesting because they legitimately want to give items away to people that will reuse them, but they don't want to have the human to human contact that reuse can require. For example, if an item would be better reused on Craigslist, they typically don't want to post it there because of all the fear around the type of people that would show up for their stuff. They are fine having an artist call them to make arrangements, however. The take home here is that if you are looking to reuse items donated on craigslist you might call yourself an artist, and there are huge psychological barriers and stigma attached to reuse, recycling, and recapturing waste.
Waste pickers around the world suffer these social labels when the services they are providing is so needed and valuable. When I modeled high couture fashion made from trash I loved the mental flossing that provided. Here was a group of beautiful ladies wearing refused trash reimagined into amazing creations. We watched as people had to face their conditioned stigmas.
The social marketing needed for the circular economy and waste to product economy to thrive is educational and a marketing (destigmatizing) challenge on the outside as much as it is a systems design challenge on the inside. In your area of influence remember to see the reverence in the recyclers, the scarab people, remember that you can quell the fears people towards the "type" of people that reuse, remake, fix. Somewhere being resourceful and waste conscious was co-opted by wasteful capitalism and the consumption economy and we have to reclaim that ethos as sane, common sensical, ecological, and creative.