Tuesday October 11, 2016

Sweden offers tax breaks to repair — not replace — broken objects

Repair Cafés provide a fix for our throwaway culture and some are popping up in Canada.

Repair Cafés provide a fix for our throwaway culture and some are popping up in Canada. (Jonathan Sabeniano)

Listen 22:51

Read story transcript

Sweden is introducing two new tax breaks at the start of 2017 — a cut in sales tax for repairs on small objects, and a tax refund for appliance repair costs.

"It's part of a greater strategy for introducing sustainable patterns of consumption in Sweden," Per Bolund, Sweden's deputy finance and consumer affairs minister tells The Current's guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.

"We see many signs that people want to make a difference, to try to be responsible as consumers. And from the government's side we try to encourage that."

The Butlers

Meet Rick and Craig Butler, the father son duo behind Butler's Appliance Service in Toronto. The shop has been in the family since 1927. After many lean years, business in their fix-it shop is on the mend. (Karin Marley/CBC)

In Toronto, fix-it shops like Butler's Appliance Repair in Toronto's east end are thriving.

"Right now we're doing a ton of repairs," says Craig Butler, the third generation in his family to work at the store.

"We're busier now than we've been in the past 10, 15 years. There's a big push on now to repair instead of throw out."

Fix-it shops, like the Butlers', used to be a fixture in every community and now politicians in Sweden have made it a priority to help them thrive again.

The Butler family says many of their competitors didn't make it through the lean years, when replacing rather than repairing was the norm. But these days, advocates, young and old, are trying to repair the fix-it ethos. 

An enthusiastic community of amateur repair enthusiasts known as the "fixer movement" work at repair cafés. The cafés got their start in the Netherlands, half a decade ago, but they are popping up in Canada too. 

Repair cafes are not-for-profit groups with the goal of adding "repair" as the fourth "R", alongside reduce, reuse and recycle. 

But there are young repair enthusiasts such as Kyle Wiens who sees profit in the fix-it business — though along a different model from traditional shops like Butler's Appliance Service.

repair cafe

Repair cafés are not-for-profit groups. (Pratik Bassi)

Wiens is the CEO and a co-founder of the website iFixit, which posts instructions for repairing everything from smartphones to alarm clocks, and also sells tools and replacement parts. He says that taking objects apart and repairing them can help us understand the world — but that some manufacturers stand in the way of the fixer movement.

"The manufacturers have realized that repair maybe takes business away from buying new products," says Wiens.

"A few manufacturers are really proactively trying to prevent people from fixing things."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley.

repair cafe Hart House

Repair cafés include fourth "R" alongside reduce, reuse and recycle. (Pratik Bassi)

Do you repair your smartphones, blenders and radios? Or is it too intimidating to try?

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