The Beauty of Recycling: How to move our culture from ‘use and throw’ to ‘repair and keep’

When one thinks of Japan, one thinks immediately of perfection, of precision and technology. Yet the traditional Japanese philosophy has another dimension that accepts and celebrates imperfection as gracefully as it strives for excellence.

The Japanese art of kintsugi is the  broken ceramic with gold lacquer, enhancing and highlighting the breakage and celebrating the transient nature of objects.

Kwan Pui Ying, explains this as a rationale for cherishing an object even after it has broken, extending the life and use of the object and treating cracks just as a step in the lifetime of the ceramic ware.

In India, there have been a range of artisans whose service to society was the repair of objects. From the dharwallah who mastered the sharpness of knives, to the rafuwallah who darned any torn fabrics with dexterity, to the amazing community of mochis or cobblers who continue to lead a humble existence, we were surrounded by people who knew how to bring a broken object back to life.

These people kept the fabric of our physical world connected. They took every accident as a challenge and showed us how one could absorb breakage into daily living. They also helped us reduce our waste significantly.

Where are they now?

The value of repair is fast diminishing in a world that is now growing up with the ‘use and throw’ mentality. As the expertise of repair becomes rare, repair in European countries has become an art – a luxury – and often it is cheaper to buy a new object that try to repair an old one. As consumer behaviour changes, these artisans are fast losing their niches in the market.

To help organise these repair experts, we are now seeing central hubs of repair as businesses offer one stop shops for all kinds of repair. Technology in India has inspired a whole generation of techies who can restore the most damaged computer and save the cellphones we are so attached to!

Yet, the desire to repair is a choice made by the consumer and enabled by the designer of the object. Designers in Japan are now looking at ‘emotionally durable design’, which facilitates a longer relationship between humans and the objects they use. This longer lifespan of objects may result in a more emotionally satisfying consumer pattern and will definitely reduce consumer waste as objects stay out of landfills. To allow for an object to be repaired over and over again, the approach of the designer and the company that manufactures the objects, has to move away from just selling larger quantities of the product to enabling a longer connection between the consumer and the company. Services such as repair will then become an essential part of the product you buy.

This extended interaction between the makers and the users of the product will also allow the user to take a deeper interest in how the product is made and an appreciation of what goes into its making.

Emotions endure breakage and repair enhances relationship. To shift consumer choices from use and throw, to repair and reuse may almost become an exercise in understanding human nature!



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