A new life for old things: Sustainable action at the Evanston Repair Cafe


Nixie Strazza/The Daily Northwestern

Elliott Dudnik and John Martin. The two work to repair an old radio at the Evanston Repair Cafe on Feb. 12.

Nixie Strazza, Reporter

From ripped jeans to gelato machines, Evanston Repair Cafe allowed volunteers Saturday to give damaged items a second life and teach residents the environmental value of repair.

The free event, hosted at the Robert Crown Branch Library, was held in partnership with Citizens’ Greener Evanston. Founder Beatriz Echeverria said the cafe’s mission is to promote sustainability and foster a reduced-waste lifestyle through community connection.

“In many other countries around the world, repair is an important step before throwing things away,” Echeverria said. “Here, people see themselves as consumers and not producers.”  

Evanston Repair Cafe is part of a larger global organization founded in Amsterdam by Martine Postma in 2009. With more than 2,200 locations worldwide, the cafe emphasizes small actions communities can take to reduce their carbon footprint and collaboration between experts and everyday people. 

Echeverria held the city’s first Repair Cafe at the Evanston Ecology Center in 2018 as an Earth Day celebration. The library now holds the event on the second Saturday of every even-numbered month.

Rather than dropping off a broken item, residents work with volunteers to decipher the issue and gain the skills to tackle possible problems in the future. Echeverria calls the process a “co-repair” meant to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. 

“The next time they have something that’s broken, instead of immediately throwing it away, they might think twice and try to open it up,” Echeverria said. 

The event featured different stations set up around the Robert Crown lobby, including general repair, electronics diagnostics, sewing and mending, jewelry and bike repair with a mechanic from downtown’s Wheel & Sprocket bike shop.

Volunteers Elliott Dudnik and John Martin manned the general repair table at Saturday’s event. An architect and maintenance mechanic respectively, the two worked to fix a radio, a toaster, a VCR, heaters and a printer over the course of the day. For Northwestern students looking for an inexpensive place to fix their bike, Martin said the cafe is an excellent option.

Dudnik said participants often bring in family relics or outdated appliances in hopes of passing them down to a new owner. 

“A grandmother came in recently with an antique European toy,” Dudnik said. “She wanted to gift it to her grandson.” 

Echeverria aims to lessen anxiety about living a more sustainable life by showing participants they can make a positive impact on the environment just by sewing their own clothes and engaging with neighbors. 

Even if a repair is unsuccessful, Echeverria said visitors enjoy the process of playing detective and cracking open an old radio or ice cream maker. Enticed by the prospect of fixing their possessions, residents leave with a new frame of mind, she said. 

“Things have an intrinsic value. They should be taken care of and respected,” Echeverria said. “There’s a dignity in fixing things for you and the item.”

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Twitter: @NixieStrazza

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