Ehrenamtliche Reparateure bei der Arbeit im Repaircafé Ditzingen

Ehrenamtliche Reparateure bei der Arbeit im Repaircafé Ditzingen

| Harald Orlamünder
2024-04-01 VDE dialog

Repair initiatives: Device on the fritz? Don't throw it away!

A number of voluntary initiatives in Germany repair electrical appliances that would otherwise be scrapped. VDE members are also putting their expertise to good use.

By Beatrice Hüper

The amount of electronic waste collected in Germany every year is enormous. Recently, over one million tons of old electronic devices ended up in the trash in one year.

Electrical engineer Wolfgang Klenner is convinced that it doesn't have to be this way. He has spent his professional life in telecommunications technology and is one of thousands of people in Germany who are involved in repair initiatives. The declared aim of this non-commercial community is to repair rather than throw away. Klenner is fully behind the idea (“We can't go on with our throwaway mentality,” he declares) and actively involved in the repair cafe of Ditzingen. In the town near Stuttgart, the group has been carrying out repairs in the workrooms of a community school since 2015, where it recently welcomed in its 2,000th visitor (who brought in a faulty printer).

These efforts are paying off: The Repair Initiatives Network, which claims to organize more than 1,500 repair cafes, bars and meetings, keeps statistics on reported repairs. According to these figures, repairing more than 13,000 appliances has eliminated 148 tons of CO2 – the equivalent of an airplane flying around the equator 17 times. The aim is to “avoid waste, save resources, protect the environment and try out sustainable lifestyles in practice.” The events are supported by “volunteers and repairers who offer their knowledge and skills voluntarily and free of charge because they are interested in technology, hands-on work, and the spirit of DIY.”

Klenner was also active as a volunteer in the DKE for many years. After retiring, he quickly found a new role in Ditzingen where he can put his manual skills and technical expertise to good use. The repair cafe group's 25 active members largely comprise retired electrical engineers and electricians, along with two helpers who take care of the organization and catering.

Simple tools and a little courage are often enough

When the repair cafe opens its doors on the second Thursday of every month, visitors don't just come to take advantage of a free repair service; they also work together to solve technical problems that are often quite simple for the experts. The coffee and cake available don't hurt either, of course. “Our goal is to help people help themselves,” says Klenner. He wants to prove that many things that suddenly stop working can be repaired – a principle that has always been popular with older people. However: “Gradually, more and more younger people are also realizing that just because something is broken doesn't mean you have to throw it away immediately.” Klenner explains that the typical issues are faulty charging sockets, defective solder joints and jammed switches. Half the devices that arrive at the Ditzingen repair cafe are multimedia in nature, while the rest are mainly from the home, garden and office. “Many people come because their printer has stopped printing,” Klenner adds. “A lot of the time, the waste toner box is just full. The printer issues an error message and stops working.” He goes on to explain that you only need to empty the container and reset the page counter, but that's not easy for a layperson. “They make things difficult for the average consumer,” Klenner complains, referring to the poor design of many everyday devices. Take a vacuum cleaner, for example: when you tug on the power cord to activate the automatic rewind, the plug bangs against the housing practically every time. At some point, a wire comes loose, and the appliance no longer works. “Something has to fundamentally change,” says Klenner.

It's important to him that the repair cafe does not compete with local tradespeople, much less poach their customers. “On the contrary,” says Klenner – it's about working together. The local radio and television technician sends people to the repair cafe of his own accord “because it no longer makes economic sense for him to repair things like VHS recorders”. Klenner and the other volunteer repair technicians provide their services free of charge, and smaller spare parts (such as fuses) are also free. If more expensive spare parts are needed, the visitor pays. Donations are also encouraged. In return, visitors receive a safety check for their electrical appliances in accordance with VDE standard 0701. “Everything that runs on 230 volts is tested and documented,” says Klenner. The repair cafe has purchased a special testing device for this purpose, which makes it particularly well equipped.

Volunteers repair faulty electrical appliances.

Repair cafe at Saarland University: Sometimes a soldering iron is used for repairs.

| Johanna Girndt

Meanwhile, many smaller initiatives also follow the same principles. At Saarland University, the VDE university group runs its own repair cafe. Parallel to the group's open meetings, students from all disciplines can bring their defective appliances, which might be suffering from a broken cable or a sticky start button. The team of around a dozen electrical engineering students really enjoys these collective activities and the environmental impact they have. “It's nice to do something together as engineers that's more practical than everyday university life,” says Dennis Arendes, who completed his master's degree in systems engineering and is now a doctoral student in the respective department. The self-help principle is important to him too: “We always repair things together. Once you've seen how easy it can be, you might have the courage to do it yourself next time.” In plenty of cases, this is definitely quicker than taking a supposedly worn-out appliance to the recycling center.

Beatrice Hüper is a freelance author from Hamburg and an editor for VDE dialog.

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