Guido Verbist of Sydney’s Bower Reuse & Repair Centre shares some simple tips for helping your used household goods do the most good.
For 20 years, The Bower Reuse & Repair Centre Co-Op in Sydney has been encouraging people to reuse, repair and recycle everything from household furniture to electrical appliances, bikes, tools and more. It’s their mission to try and divert some of the estimated two tonnes of landfill waste the average Australian creates every year.
The co-op’s eco-friendly credentials make its manager, Guido Verbist, one of Australia’s leading authorities on reusing, recycling and repairing. We’ve compiled some advice, with help from Guido, for more responsible furniture (and electronics) ownership.
1. Buy second hand
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? The trouble is, for most of us, second hand isn’t our first thought. The Bower, for example, receives far more donations of goods than it has people who want to buy them.
Guido thinks that one of the biggest shifts that needs to take place is in normalising the idea of second-hand homes. Because if your home’s filled with second-hand goods to start with, then you’re already a whole step ahead of the zero-waste curve. “Even if you don’t live in Sydney, or close to The Bower, there are similar projects in every major capital in Australia,” says Guido. “When you want to buy something, think second hand. There is so much good quality stuff out there, it’ll be cheaper, and it’s better for the environment. It’s win-win.”
2. Buy high-quality things that can be repaired
If you are buying new, it’ll pay off in the long term to buy well-made, high quality products that can be repaired over and over again. For many industries, it’s pretty normal practice to produce items that are designed to break, degrade or fail after a certain period of time.
The tech and electronics industry is particularly prone to this profit-driving technique – just think about how many phones you’ve probably bought only to discard, upgrade or replace after just a year or two. Some companies even make it more expensive to repair a product than it is to buy a new one. “A very basic rule is that if it has screws, it can be opened, and probably fixed,” says Guido. “If it doesn’t have screws, it’s not designed to be opened or repaired, and the implication is that you just have to throw it away.”
3. Learn how to fix your possessions
As part of their service to the community, The Bower serves up all kinds of different DIY and repair-focused workshops. Most Saturdays, they hold a Repair Café, where you can drop in with a broken item and learn how to fix it for free.
Whether furniture, electrical items, bikes, power tools – The Bower can teach you everything you need to know to help make your gear go the distance. And if you can’t get to The Bower in person, YouTube tutorials and other online resources are but a click away. “Once people get a little understanding about how to fix something, they’ll be more engaged to do it again and again,” says Guido. “We just want to share that knowledge with people.”
4. Don’t assume all hard rubbish goes to a good place
It’s easy to chuck your stuff on the nature strip and call the council to come and pick it up – you might even think that they’ll put your hard rubbish to good use. But there’s no guarantee your council will recycle any of those materials. “Some of it might very well end up in landfill,” says Guido. “It’s up to the individual to inform themselves on what their local council does with hard rubbish, and then decide if that’s good enough for them. If not, going to the extra effort of getting your used items to a second-hand store of some description is worth it.”
5. Don’t throw anything out in the first place
As Guido mentions above, one of the best ways of making sure your used goods are put to good use is to take them in to your nearest second hand store. You might not think there’s any life left in your old couch, but someone else could easily nab it for cheap and refurbish it themselves.
Through their House to Home initiative, which is supported by a Bank Australia customer grant, The Bower provides furniture and other household goods to asylum seekers, refugees and survivors of family violence to help get them set up in their new permanent accommodation. “The more we can repair and recycle, the less ends up in landfill, and the more good we can do,” says Guido.
You can find Guido and his team at their Marrickville or Parramatta locations, and visit The Bower website for more information and reusing, repairing and recycling. The Bower’s House to Home initiative is supported by Bank Australia’s Customer Grants.