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Sustainability

Category Archive: Consumer behavior

Carbon footprint from food waste bigger than most countries’

By SustainableBusiness.com

Published on GreenBiz.com on 9-16-2013

Food waste isn’t just a devastating misuse of natural resources, it’s also a huge part of the world’s carbon footprint, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Every year, the world throws out about 1.3 billion tons of food – a startling one-third of the food produced. And that creates a greenhouse gas footprint bigger than all countries, except fo China and the U.S.

How? Because of the immense amounts of energy, water and chemicals used for agriculture and food production. The food supply chain produces about 3.3 billion tons of carbon a year.

That means 30 percent oft he world’s farmland – about 3.5 billion acres – is wasted.

And not counting seafood, wasting all that food costs about $750 billion a year, about the GDP of Switzerland, says FAO.

“All 0f us – farmers and fishers; food processors and supermarkets; local and national governments; individual consumers – must make changes at every link of the human food chain to prevent food wastage from happening in the first place, and re-use or recycle it when we can’t,” said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva. “We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices, when 870 million go hungry every day.”

“Food wastage reduction would not only avoid pressure on scarce natural resources but also decrease the need to raise food production by 60 percent in order to meet the 2050 population demand,” writes FAO in its report ‘Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources.’

The UN study is the first to examine the impacts of global food waste from an environmental perspective, looking specifically at consequences for the climate, water and land use, and biodiversity.

Where Waste Occurs

The majority of food waste (54 percent) happens during and after food harvesting, particularly while it’s handled and stored. The rest occurs during the processing, distribution and consumption stages.

In developed economies, such as the U.S., where up to 40 percent of all food is wasted, the issue is one of consumers buying too much and throwing away what they don’t need. Elsewhere, in emerging and developing nations, the waste comes from framing inefficiences and a lack of proper storage, reports FAO.

Asia (China, Japan, Korea) is a regional hot spot for vegetable waste and rice, the cultivation of which is extremely carbon-intensive. Meat waste is a big issue in Latin America, which accounts for 80 percent of the world’s meat waste. Fruit and vegetable waste is problematic in Asia, Latin America and Europe.

How to Solve the Problem

The highest priority is to reduce crop losses through better farming practices, says FAO. Also important are re-use and recycling strategies that make it easier to donate surplus food to those that need it, and to divert foods no fit for human consumption to livestock.

Beyond these strategies, FAO recommends by-product recycling, anaerobic digestion and composting to recover energy and nutrients. These processes also minimize the amount of methane created by food rotting in landfills.

“UNEP and FAO have identified food waste and loss as a major opportunity for economies everywhere to assist in transition towards a low carbon, resource efficient and inclusive Green Economy,” say Achim Steiner, executive director for the UN Environment Program (UNEP). “Today’s excellent report by FAO underline the multiple benefits that can be realized – in many cases through simple and thoughtful measures by, for example, households, retailers, restaurants, schools and businesses – that can contribute to environmental sustainability, economic improvements, food security and the realization of the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge.”

UNEP and FAO are founding partners of the Think Eat Save – Reduce Your Footprint campaign, launched this year to coordinate worldwide efforts to cut food waste.”

Source URL: http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2013/09/16/carbon-footprint-food-waste-bigger-most-countries

 

 

 

The Weather Company Confronts Climate Change Denial Head On

By Tina Casey; Published July 15, 2013, TriplePundit.com

Recently, some of the top business journalists in the U.S. went on record asserting that climate change denial is a form of political posturing that is not worthy of discussion in serious reporting on economic issues. If that doesn’t lay the whole climate change denial thing to rest, then hopefully this will:  The Weather Company has just endorsed the BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy) Climate Declaration, which acknowledges the scientific consensus on climate change.

As the owner of The Weather Channel and related weather media platforms, The Weather Company already reaches a broad audience with reality-based information, so it’s in a good position to help bridge the political divide…or is it?

Communicating about climate science

Let’s start with the current state of affairs, which is the information gulf separating climate scientists and the lay public. Politics aside, a large part of the problem has to do with the nature of communication accurately about science in general. In many cases, it is impossible to reduce science into sound bites that can be absorbed during the course of daily life, especially in competition with the flood of other news in a media-saturated world.

Climate change poses an especially great communications challenge, because the hard evidence accumulates over long periods of time and cannot be seen with the naked eye, except in abstract form of a chart or graph.

The Weather Company and climate change

Public awareness is beginning to reach into new territory, even without the help of The Weather Company. In the past couple of years, more of the general population has had the misfortune to experience phenomena linked to climate change, namely, more frequent and severe storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires. That also includes people who live in areas that have not experienced extreme destruction in a generation or more, and now find their normally “safe” environment undergoing new threats.

In that regard, The Weather Company could help build these individual experiences into a tipping point. To see why, let’s go back a few months ago, when artists and researcher Nickolay Lamm used data from the non-profit organization Climate Central to create a series of arresting before -and-after images of East Coast landmarks affected by sea level rise. He had this to say about the project, which he called Sea Level Rise in Real Life.

“I’m surprised at the amount of people calling this a ‘liberal agenda.’ When I was making these illustrations, I based them off sea level rise maps from Climate Central, not someone’s wild imagination.”

Now Lamm has added a West Coast version to the project, and The Weather Company has picked up on it. In a July 12 article on weather.com, The Weather Channel posted Lamm’s West Cost images and video along with links to the East Coast version and to Climate Central.

The article also referenced NOAA and National Geographic, so consider that thrgough The Weather Company, reality-baseed information from Climate Central is now associated with some of the most trusted (and non-political) names in science information, all wrapped around a series of truly stunning, graphic images of what some of the most familiar icons in the U.S. landscape would look like under water.

For more of the article go <HERE>

 

Ben & Jerry’s Commits to Phasing out GMOs

From: TriplePundit.com, published June 21, 2013

By Lisa Marie Chirico

“Consumers searching for greater clarity in food labeling have reason to rejoice. Ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s, a division of Unilever, decided that more transparency was in order. The Vermont-based company, the first wholly-owned subsidiary to gain B Corp Certification, recently announced their plan to completely eliminate all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from their entire product line by 2014. According to the company, about 80 percent of their ingredients by volume are sourced non-GMO in the United States and Canada, and all their products made in Europe are already non-GMO. ‘We have a long history of siding with consumers and their right to know what’s in their food,” Ben & Jerry’s stated.

According to the company’s website, although their goal is for all 80 flavors to be Fair Trade Certified and sources with non-GMO ingredients by the end of this year, the conversion will continue into 2014. Ben & Jerry’s cites complexity as the reason for this – a single flavor of their ice cream can contain almost 40 different ingredients.

The public outcry over GMOs continues to grow. According to a recent poll, 82 percent of Americans agree that foods containing GMOs should be sold with a label. The U.S. is currently the only industrialized nation lacking mandatory labeling for GMO foods. Although voters in the state of California did not approve the GMO labeling legislation Proposition 37, there are currently similar efforts underway in 20 other states, including Vermont, where the GMO labeling law recently passed by a vote of 99-42 and awaits state Senate approval. Concerns about GMO labeling have also begun to reach restaurant chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, who started labeling all ingredients, including GMOs, of their chains’ menu in March. According to the company’s spokesperson, the chain is also working to decrease the GMO content of its ingredients.”

For the rest of the story, go HERE.

 

Game On: Why Walmart is ranking suppliers on sustainability

Published on GreenBiz.com, April 15,2013

By Mark Gunther

“Since launching its sustainability program in 2006, Walmart has reduced energy consumption in its stores, installed solar panels on its rooftops, curbed emissions from its trucks and recycled millions of tons of its trash. Now that the world’s biggest retailer has streamlined its own operations, it is turning its attention elsewhere – actually, almost everywhere.

Since last fall, Walmart has rolled out what it calls a supplier sustainability index to thousands of suppliers, asking them pointed questions about their operations and prodding them to better understand and manage their own supply chains.

It’s Walmart’s most ambitious environmental project ever, and if all goes according to plan, it will change the way all kinds of consumer products – clothes, toys, electronics, food and beverages – are made. The typical Walmart stocks 125,000 to 150,000 products (!), and the environmental and social performance of most companies that make them soon will be rated and ranked in Bentonville, Ark.

So Walmart is asking lots of questions of its suppliers. Among them:

How can wheat be grown with less water and fertilizer? How can chemicals of concern by removed from toys? What mining practices were used to extract copper, gold and silver for computers or jewelry? What percentage of your televisions sold last year were Energy Star certified? Do the grapes in a bottle of wine come from a farmer with a biodiversity management plan? How much water was needed to produce those polyester pants?

A Fiendishly Complicated Undertaking

If this sounds like a massive and fiendlishly complicated undertaking, well, it is. It has been in the works since 2009, when Walmart unveiled The Sustainability Consortium, a nonprofit coalition led by the University of Arkansas and Arizona State University that was set up to provide scientific research to undergrid the effort. Since then, a few other retailers (Tesco, Kroger, Ahold, Best Buy) and dozens of consumer product brands (Coca-Cola, Disney, Kellogg’s, Mars) have signed on to the consortium.

Working with research produced by the consortium and its scientists, Walmart last year sent questions to suppliers in about 200 product categories. Hundreds more will be surveyed this year. The surveys will cover about half of the products sold in Walmart, which had revenues of $468 billion last year.

Walmart is ranking its suppliers, from best to worst in each category. The rankings will be shared with its buyers, who are known as ‘merchants’; theydecide what gets onto store shelves and play a vital role inside Walmart. The merchants, in turn, will be compensated in part based on the sustainability performance of their category.

Jeff Rice, who as senior director of sustainability at Walmart oversees the index, told me that it had four broad goals:

  • To improve the environmental performance of its most popular products.
  • To further integrate sustainabiltiy into Walmart by giving responsibility to the merchants.
  • To drive a productivity loop that reduce costs and ultimately benefits customers.
  • To increase customer trust in Walmart and its brands.

As always with Walmart, the opportunity is to drive change at scale. ‘We’re really trying to accelerate the scale of sustainability innovation, not just identify green niche products,’ Rice said.

Will it have an impact? It’s too early to answer that question with any certainty.

Several Walmart suppliers who were willing to talk – any many were not – told me that the index will help build a stronger business case for their own sustainabiltiy efforts. ‘The index challenges us to continually improve,’ said Kim Marotta, chief sustainability officer at Miller Coors, which is working with the farmers who grow its barley to reduce their use of water and pesticides. It also helps her make the case inside the company that ‘sustainability is very important to our business,’ she told me.

Dave Stangis, vice president of corporate responsibility at Campbell’s Soup, believes the index will make a difference. ‘The index validates people who are doing the good work. It’s a wakeup call to others,’ he said. Campbell’s, he said, is working with The Sustainability Consortiium to develop a mapping tool that will help buyers of agricultural commodities such as soybeans, sweet potatoes, or sugar beets avoid purchasing them from places with water risk, or where biodiversity is threatened. ‘We’re trying to be cognizant of the priorities that Walmart has, as well as those of our other customers,’ he said.”

To read more from companies that don’t think it makes a difference, the rest of the article is available HERE.

It’s Recyclemania Time!

Recyclemania is Back!! The goal, of course, is to both reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ we throw out in the trash by thinking before we buy AND if we do need to discard something AND it is recyclable, to put it in the appropriate recycling bin.

Recyclemania is a friendly yearly competition with other colleges and universities in North America and Canada to see who can do the best job of reducing, reusing and recycling. During the eight weeks of February 3 – March 30, we’ll be having our waste hauler record the amount of waste and recycling removed from ALL our campus dumpsters. That volume is converted to weights and entered in the RecycleMania database for all to see … and compare our progress against other schools!

In Wisconsin, the following schools are competing in RecycleMania: Carroll University, College of the Menominee Nation, Lawrence University, Saint Norbert College, UW – Madison, UW – Milwaukee, UW – Oshkosh, UW – Plattville, UW – River Falls, UW – Stout, UW – Whitewater, and Western Technical College. How will we fare against this competition?? That depends on you and your buying/recycling habits!

Stay tuned for events happening the week of March 3rd and check back here for updates on our progress and status.

Starbucks Introduces $1 Reusable Cup to Cut Down on Waste

from CNN.com; posted Jan. 3, 2013

Starting Thursday (Jan. 3), Starbucks customers will have the option to save their planet – and their wallets – a dime at a time. The coffee giant is offering $1 plastic cups, which can be reused for drink purchases at a discount of ten cents.

Jim Hanna, the director of environmental affairs at Starbucks, told USA Today that while the company has sold reusable tumblers for some time and offered the ten cent discount, he expects that the modest price of its new one, available at company-owned stores in the U.S. and Canada, will encourage customers to take action more frequently. The new effort comes largely in response to consumer criticism over the volume of paper coffee cup waste – approximately 4 billion cups globally each year – generated by Starbucks.

The responsibility section of Starbucks’ website details the company’s effort to work with vendors and local authorities to get more of its paper cups recycled, and to host recurring “Cup Summits” collaborating on the issue with industry leaders from MIT, Tim Horton’s, Georgia-Pacific and Action Carting Environmental Services. By 2015, Starbucks plans to have front-of-store recycling in all its company-owned locations.

According to a 2011 report issued by Starbucks, that year, customers used personal tumblers more than 34  million times – nearly 2% of all beverages served in global company-owned stroes. While this represented a 55% incrase in personal tumbler use from 2008′s tally, Starbucks admitted to challenges in tracking cup use both in and away from their stores, and reduced the company’s goal of 25% reusable cups by 2015 to 5%.

The reusable cups are made in China, and have fill lines inside denoting “tall,” “grande,” and “venti”-sized drinks. The cups will be rinsed with boiling water by Starbucks employees before they’re refilled, reducing the risk of cross-contamination, but a least one more challenge remains: will customers actually remember to bring them into the store?

Remember…you get a much better deal when you bring a reusable mug to the Common Grounds on campus for a cup of joe – no measly dime, but 25% off the purchase price!

The True Cost of Clothing

Published on Greenbiz.com, Dec. 12, 2012; Author: Richard Mattison

“Past True Cost columns have relied on generic product data. This month, we provide a case study based on actual product data following the work PUMA has done to identify the environmental price tag of its products.

PUMA wanted to understand whether its efforts to develop more sustainable clothing products had in fact been making a positive difference after all environmental impacts across the full product lifecycle had been taken into account.

The PUMA Product Enviromental Profit and Loss (EP&L) analysis compares a pair of PUMA’s conventional Suede sneakers versus a pair of PUMA’s soon-to-be-launched biodegradable InCycle Basket sneakers.

The analysis takes account of the environmental impacts caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste and air pollution, as well as the use of natural resources such as water and land along the entire value chain, from the generation of raw materials and production processes to the consumer phase where the product is used, washed, dried, ironed and ultimately discarded.

The results of this analysis confirm that PUMA’s focus in creating a sustainable footwear alternative was not in vain. The enviromental impacts of the conventional PUMA Suede sneaker amounted to €4.29 ($5.61) per pair, while those of the InCycle basket sneaker were only €2.95 ($3.86) – around a third less environmental damage across the product lifecycle.

How was this acheived?

Previous EP&L analysis of PUMA’s operations and supply chain identified that its environmental impacts were mainly concentrated in the raw material production and processing tiers of PUMA’s supply chain. This provided important focus areas for environmental optimization.

Greenhouse gases. Substituting the conventional PUMA Suede leather uppers for a combination organic cotton and linen led to significant GHG savings for the InCycle sneaker, as the GHGs associated with rearing cattle for leather production far exceed those related to cotton farming. Further GHG savings resulted from a switch to organic cotton which avoids the use of GHG-intensive synthetic fertilizers. And finally at the end-of-life, the InCycle Basket has the lowest GHG emissions because it is 100 percent compostable, whereas the traditional PUMA Suede is not currently recyclable and cannot be composted due to chemicals used in the production of the Suede. The PUMA Suede will ultimately end up in a landfill or incinerator.

All tallied, GHG emissions from the production, consumer use and end-of-life of the PUMA InCycle sneaker cause around 35 percent less environmental costs from GHG emissions than the conventional PUMA Suede.

Water. The InCycle sneaker outperformed the PUMA Suede with 21 percent less water consumption. This can be linked directly to leather, which requires more water during the tanning and processing phase than cotton. The PUMA InCycle sneaker does, however, have a higher water cost during the raw material phase since organic cotton farming is more intensive than cattle ranching.

Land Use. Choosing which country products and services are sourced from has a direct impact on land use valuation, since this relates to the types of ecosystems that are affected. The analysis found that the InCycle sneaker has a 20 percent reduced enviromental cost from land use because a far larger area of agricultural land is required for the production of leather, in particular related to cattle farming, than for the production of cotton.

Waste.  When analyzing waste generation throughout the product life-cycle, the InCycle sneaker creates approximately one third of what the PUMA Suede generates. The main savings are at the raw-material production and processing stages, where cotton generates far less waste than leather. Additionally, due to the compostable nature of the PUMA InCycle, there aren’t any environmental costs associated with waste at end-of-life.

Air Pollution. The PUMA InCycle sneaker has a 14 percent higher environmental cost related to air pollution than the PUMA Suede because the energy required to convert cotton into thread and weave it into fabric is higher than the energy necessary to process leather.

However, applying a financial value to these competing environmental costs quickly revealed that the negative air pollution impacts were easily offset by the much more significant savings in other areas.

Focusing on Waste

To clear the waste that 100,000 pairs of conventional sneakers cause during the production process and the consumer life, 31 waste disposal trucks are needed. Now consider this against the billions of sneakers made each year – around 21 billion pairs in 2011 alone – and you will begin to see the tip of the iceberg of what needs to change.”

To read more and understand the impact of true cost accounting, read the rest of the article here.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle for the Holidays

Tis’ the season for gift-giving, gift-receiving and, as a consequence, waste generation. Here’s some tips to consider that will put a greener-tinge to your holiday season.

  • Many thousands of paper and plast shopping bags end up in landfills every year. Reduce the number of bags thrown out by bringing reusable bags for holiday gift shopping. Tell store clerks you don’t need a bag for small or oversized purchases.
  • Wrap gifts in recycled or reused wrapping paper or funny papers. Or use a used brown grocery bag you/your kids decorate for the occassion. Also remember to save or recycle used wrapping paper.
  • Give a gift card. More than two-thirds of American consumers purchase at least one gift card as a holidy present for a loved one. They’re appreciated, they never expire, and they require no fancy gift-wrapping.
  • Say “Happy Holidays” over the phone or internet. An estiamted 2.6 billion holiday cards are sold each year in the United States, enough to fill a football field 10 stories high. If every family reduced thier mailing list by just one card, the nationw ould save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. If you have Internet access, consider sending electronic holiday cards this year. Check the selection at commercial sites like hallmark.com, bluemountain.com, or 123christmascards.com.  You can also check charitable support groups like care2.com or conservation groups like The Nature Conservancy.
  • Repurpose old holiday cards – donate your old cards to a nursery or day care center for arts and crafts projects. Or, cut up cards to be used as gift tags, bookmarks, greeting cards, placemats, or decorations. Used cards, especially those with large pictures to cut out, can also be used as decorations. Just put a hole at the top of the card and knot a piece of string to lace through the hole to hang on next year’s Christmas tree, door handles, etc.
  • Recycle that tree. Nationwide, an estimated 15 million used Christmas trees end up in landfills. Remember to recycle trees locally or turn them into mulch for water conservation and weed control in the garden. Reuse branches to make colorful holiday wreaths and separate the pine needles from tree branches to create tree-scented sachet bags. Or, consider an artificial tree or a “living” tree that can be replanted in the yard.
  • Make room for new gadgets and toys. Outgrown toys, clothes and furniture may be donated to charitable groups like Goodwill Industries, The Salvation Army, American Cancer Society, or many local shelters and thrift stores.
  • Shopping for a new cell phone? Americans ten to upgrade their cell phones every 18 to 24 months, and the U.S. EPA estimates Americans discard 125 million old cell phones annually, creating 65,000 tons of waste. What’s more, the old phones contain hazardous materials- including mercury, cadmium, and arsenic – that cannot be accepted at landfills. Look up cell phone recycling on the Internet and you’ll get back both sites where you can sell your phone as well as organizations that gratefully accept your old cell phone donation.
  • Buy reusable batteries. About 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Consider purchasing rechargeable batteries instead as they can be used again and again. And don’t forget:  at the end of their life, rechargeable batteries need to be properly recycled and not discarded in the trash. Check out call2recycle.org for battery recycling locations in the area.  
  • Consider the durability of a product before you buy it as a gift. Cheaper, less durable items often wear out quickly, creating waste and costing you money.
  • When buying gifts, check product labels to determine an item’s recyclability and whether it is made from recycled materials. Buying recycled encourages manufacturers to make more recycled-content products available.
  • Turn off or unplug holiday lights during the day. Doing so will not only save energy, but will also help your lights last longer.
  • Recycle packing peanuts. Check with local postal shipping stores to see if they will accept foam peanuts for recycling. Call “The Peanut Hotline” at 800-828-2214 to find the nearest location, or check the Plastic Loose Fill Council website for a drop-off location near you.

Sources:  U.S. EPA and Cal Recycle

Are product sustainability programs at a tipping point?

By Chris Nelson, GreenBiz, published 8-22-12

“Over the last few months, I’ve had a chance to speak to a large number of senior business, EH&S and sustainability leaders at a variety of Fortune 500 ERM clients about product sustainability and what it means to their organizations. What resonated in these conversations is that designing and implementing product sustainability programs at an enterprise level is now a strategic imperative for many companies. This was a consistent theme across many different market sectors and was being driven by the belief that a product sustainability program could create significant business value for their organizations.

Generally, these programs focus on improving permforance across the enterprise in the following areas (including but not limited to): life-cycle management, product regulatory compliance, supply-chain management, materials, waste, energy, water, packaging and product innovation. Companies are finally being able to see that a product sustainability program can lead to opportunities to increase sales, reduce risk, improve brand recognition and trust as well as develop organizational capabilities related to sustainability and innovation. And, of course, an improvement in their overall environmental and social performance.

This hasn’t always been the case. Companies historically addressed product sustainability issues reactively, intended to deal with a specific customer request related to a product life-cycle or supply-chain initiative, or with a pressing regulatory issues. It was not becasue they saw the ability to create business value by designing and implementing product sustainability programs at the enterprise level.

Companies are not seeing that the status quo of reactive responses is no longer enough. Many of these companies are seeing their market leadership position erode as their competitors are beginning to make serious commitments – as well as substantive progress – towards product sustainability leadership. They are realizing that they need to be more proactive in understanding and meeting regulatory requirements to ensure they have a license to operate in an environment where the global regulatory landscape is increasing and becoming more complex. They have better access to product-level data and information as a result of the implementation of large-scale EHS and sustianbility information systems; these systems not only report what is – or is not – in a given product, but can also indicate resource (e.g. energy) intensity to help manufacturers improve overall business processes. Some companies are losing business by not effectively communicating the environmental impacts of their products and operations in response to a customer supply chain initiative.

Most importantly, there is an increasing emphsis placed on product life-cycle management to ensure their companies are focusing their attention on the most important opportunities and issues across the product value chain.

Most of these companies are struggling to understand how to unlock potential business value from a product sustainability program and to identify and access the resources they need to deliver on their vision for product sustainability. That’s where the challenges and complexity of designing and implementing product sustainability programs expose themselves. The business value is difficult to determine and in most cases the companies do not have – or are unsure as to whether they have – the right resources to make all of this a reality, from a people, tools and infrastructure perspective.”

To read the rest of the article and learn the questions a company should ask when designing and implementing a product sustainability program, CLICK HERE.

An Effort to Bury a Throwaway Culture One Repair at a Time

Interesting idea from Amsterdam, appearing in the New York Times, May 8, 2012.

By Sally McGrane

“AMSTERDAM – An unemployed man, a retired pharmacist and an upholsterer took their stations, behind tables covered in red gingham. Screwdrivers and sewing machines stood at the ready. Coffee, tea and cookies circulated. Hilij Held, a neighbor, wheeled in a zebra-striped suitcase and extracted a well-used iron. ‘It doesn’t work anymore,’ she said. ‘No steam.’

Ms. Held had come to the right place. At Amsterdam’s first Repair Cafe, an event originally held in a theater’s foyer, then in a rented room in a former hotel and now in a community center a couple times a month, people can bring in whatever they want to have repaired, at no cost, by volunteers who just like to fix things.

Conceived as a way to help people reduce waste, the Repair Cafe concept has taken off since its debut two and a half years ago. The Repair Cafe Foundation has raised about $525,000 through a grant from the Dutch government, support from foundations and small donations, all of which pay for staffing, marketing and even a Repair Cafe bus.

Thirty groups have started Repair Cafes across the Netherlands, where neighbors pool their skills and labor for a few hours a month to mend holey clothing and revivify old coffee makers, broken lamps, vacuum cleaners and toasters, as well as at least one electric organ, a washing machine and an orange juice press.

‘In Europe, we thow out so many things,’ said Martine Postma, a former journalist who came up with the concept after the birth of her second child led her to think more about the environment. ‘It’s a shame, because the things we throw away are usually not that broken. There are more and more people in the world, and we can’t keep handling things the way we do.

‘I had the feeling I wanted to do something, not just write about it,’ she said. But she was troubled by the question: ‘How do you try to do this as a normal person in your daily life?’ Inspired by a design exhibit about the creative, cultural and economic benefits of repairing and recycling, she decided that helping people fix things was a practical way to prevent unnecessary waste.

‘Sustainability discussions are often about ideals, about what could be,’ Ms. Postma said. ‘After a certain number of workshops on how to grow your own mushrooms, people get tired. This is very hands on, very concrete. It’s about doing something together, in the here and now.’

While the Netherlands puts less than 3 percent of its municipal waste into landfills, there is still room for improvement, according to Joop Atsma, the state secretary for infrastructure and the environment.” ….

Read more about this innovative concept of Repair Cafes here.

Do you think a similar concept would work in the U.S., or are we too deeply enmeshed in the ‘Take-Make-Waste’ economy?