We believe that the Fix-it Fair should be more than a once-in-awhile event – we want to support the development of a more circular economy in Nova Scotia and throughout Atlantic Canada by increasing public knowledge and competency around purchasing, maintaining, repairing and reusing the items of day-to-day living.
Nova Scotia is a Canadian leader in waste diversion. Despite this success, our waste management infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the inundation of waste consumer items. While some of these items can be recycled, others are a complex mix of materials that cannot be easily disassembled at end-of-life. And even if a product is recyclable, there is still a cost to the system in reclaiming its constituent materials and transforming them into useful inputs for new products.
Prior to the era of cheap consumer plastics, products from textiles to toasters to cars were repaired when they broke. A repair industry existed to help consumers maintain and extend the life of their products, and provided a livelihood for those employed by that industry. The public as a whole had a different relationship with their products. Items that were durable, that lasted well with minimal maintenance, and that could be easily repaired when they did break, represented a smart investment.
In contrast, today’s consumer culture has flipped this ethic on its head. Products are seen as vehicles for self-expression and status indicators, so changing fashions drive consumers to replace viable but outdated items with the newest and trendiest goods. Specialization as a form of market differentiation has resulted in a plethora of products to address consumer ‘needs’ where one formerly sufficed. Why just have a frying pan when you can have a grilled cheese press, a waffle iron and the George Foreman grill? And with the contraction of the repair industry, even if a consumer is inclined to try to hold on to a broken item, the cost and inconvenience of repair often outstrips the cost of replacement.
Beyond the whims of fashion, many products are designed to be low-cost, single-use, and temporary. This benefits manufacturers by reducing production costs and guaranteeing repeat business. The items that tend to comprise litter – beverage cups, bottles and cans, cigarette butts, plastic bags, food containers and wrappers – are the leftovers from a convenience culture that prefers items that are easy to use and dispose, while not making it nearly as simple to reuse or recycle those items.
The irony of consumer disposables is that while they are temporary and fragile, they are made from resources that took decades or millennia for nature to create. Paper products are made from trees that are often between 20 and 35 years old. Plastics are made from fossil fuels that took hundreds of thousands of years to form. And as for metals and minerals, we only have as much as were present in the Earth’s crust when it formed.
Until renewable energy sources are prevalent and reliable enough to power the production process for these products, metal, glass, plastic or paper consumer products and packaging also represent a huge fossil fuel investment. Littered metals, papers, glass and plastics therefore represent vital resources that are not re-captured through reuse or recycling. And while recycling can recover the materials, it cannot recover the energy used in their manufacture. Moreover, many substances can only be recycled so many times, sometimes as few as once.
Finally, in a province with the second-highest prevalence of food insecurity in Canada, the wastage of so much edible food represents a huge missed opportunity for Nova Scotia. As was so evident at the Circular Economy Food Waste Summit hosted by Divert Nova Scotia in 2017, there are encouraging actions from established food retailers to reduce the amount of food that is wasted and to re-distribute food to those in need. Another part of fighting food waste is educating consumers as to how to reduce food waste and make better use of what’s in the fridge, and that aesthetic appeal does not equate to safety or taste.