Advocates: Veera Swaminathan

His organisation teaches people how to repair household items and dispose of electrical waste responsibly.

Advocates: Veera Swaminathan

Singapore generates about 60,000 tonnes of electronic waste every year, only 6 percent of which are deposited into e-waste recycling bins. Repair Kopitiam is a community repair meet-up that coaches people to repair household items and engage in responsible e-waste disposal.

“At Sustainable Living Lab, where I am a director, I help communities and companies develop solutions for sustainable growth. As part of our work, we often reflect on the buy-and-throw culture in Singapore. We would come across used items discarded at the void decks of HDB blocks, and since we possessed the necessary tools and skills, we thought we could repair them! That inspired me to launch Repair Kopitiam in 2014.

“We want to encourage Singaporeans to move towards becoming a zero-waste nation. Through reducing, reusing, recycling and repairing, we can do our part to help develop a successful circular economy.

“Every last Sunday of the month, Repair Kopitiam organises public repair sessions, where people bring along their items, such as electrical appliances and torn clothes, to be fixed. These are held in Jurong, Tampines and Ang Mo Kio, from 10am to 3pm.

“Thanks to YouTube and a lifetime of tearing apart appliances (to understand how they work), we have been able to repair many fans, kettles and irons. That said, we don’t repair stuff for people. We teach participants to repair the items. Members of the public can also attend our training workshops; they can pick up repair skills, after which they can volunteer as repair coaches.

“Repair Kopitiam doesn’t accept bicycles, mobile phones and laptops as paid repair services for these items are widely available. Other items we have turned away include potentially dangerous appliances like microwave ovens as well as fixtures like doors and ceiling lights.

“The process of repair not only empowers participants to find value in objects, but also allows them to pick up traits such as perseverance, discipline and patience, all of which are elements integral to leading a sustainable and zero-waste lifestyle. Our repair sessions have a success rate of 60 percent.

“At a public repair session some years back, an elderly gentleman thanked me for our work. He appreciated our help to repair ‘old and useless’ things, adding that many people treated senior citizens as ‘old and useless’. He hoped that these public repair sessions would enable others to see the value in people society considers as ‘old and useless’.

“We live in an affluent society so we acquire new stuff more often than required. Waste disposal is so efficient, we end up not giving much thought to the problem of waste. And because there is no penalty or reward based on how much waste households dispose of, we no longer consider the consequences.

“The work of Repair Kopitiam is still seen as a nice to have or, at best, good to have. It must become a need to have. To reach out to a wider audience, we started working with electricity retailer Geneco Singapore for its #ChangeMakersSG campaign last year, which seeks to educate and engage the community towards a more sustainable Singapore.

“Often, how we treat non-living objects reflects how we behave towards others in need. So will you choose to repair or discard?”

This story first appeared in the August issue of A.

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