Repair, Re-gift, Repurpose

before recycling.

Repair was the norm during my mother’s generation. We would bring our electrical appliances, be it a walkman, a radio, a fan, a TV, a VHS player, to a repairman around the neighborhood if they stopped working. For clothing, my mother would hand sew loose buttons, mend holes and they are good to be worn again. For alterations, we would bring them to a seamstress to do it. If clothes become too worn and tattered, they are then cut into rags or turned into floor mats. For shoes, there used to be street cobblers which were way cheaper than shops. Nowadays, it can cost a lot more to repair than to buy a new pair. That didn’t stop me. I lugged 8 pairs of shoes to Malaysia and got them fixed for just 1/3 of the price quoted in Singapore! I was lucky to know this street cobbler, just around the corner, close to where I used to stay.

Too expensive to repair shoes in Singapore? Bring them to Malaysia to fix instead. It’s worth it!

As an ex-shopaholic, I used to own a lot of shoes. After downsizing my life, I still have about 40 pairs. Half of which needed repair. They are good shoes, they still spark joy and too wasted to just throw away. All they needed was some gluing, stitching, replacing the outsoles, rubber bits under the heels, etc. I also got a pair of 3 years old hiking shoes repaired which cost me just RM 10 instead of RM 600 to get a new pair. The same cobbler glued and hand-stitched the sole back. I was so grateful and happy I can wear them all again.

My 3 years old hiking shoes gave way just before an upcoming hiking trip to Nepal’s Annapurna Base Camp.
The same street cobbler repaired by gluing and hand stitching the sole back!

Recently, I moved back to Singapore and try to connect with the green communities here. Other than the various Zero Waste FB groups, I found some free-cycling groups, an Urban Farmers group where I adopted some plants from, the Project Black Gold Composting call group as I started composting just outside my corridor, last but not least, the Repair Kopitiam where you can bring any items for repair at 3 areas in Singapore. Search for the FB groups using relevant keywords and I am sure you will find a few like-minded communities in your country.

Re-gift items and bless others instead of storing or hoarding them. Use them or they become useless. I usually re-gift to friends and family first before I donate to Charity Organizations. However, I am aware some Charity Organizations are overburdened by donations from the public. So I started posting items to re-gift others directly at free-cycle community groups on Facebook instead. Reminder: Charities are not dumping grounds. Donation is not an excuse to feel good about your mindless consumption. Think before you buy. Think about the maintenance and consequences of your purchases. Who is paying the true cost?

Repurpose before Recycling has got to be the most fun for me. Put on your creativity hat and you will be surprised what came out of it. Here are some delightful examples I’ve seen during my zero waste journey so far. Turning ‘waste’ into art and art installations, building materials, and cleaning products are a few of my favorites.

WOLO Hotel (KL) reception wall art is made from single-use plastic and disposables such as plastic cups and cutleries.
Lost ‘soles’ found on the beaches of Bali were turned into an art installation outside Potato Head to spread beach pollution awareness. The facade of Potato Head is decorated with old window frames. Another fine example of Repurpose.
Skyscraper (The Bruges Whale) sculpture by STUDIOKCA is made out of five tons of plastic waste that had been pulled out of the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.
Turn an old boat or aircraft into an extraordinary dining experience.
Used plastic bottles turned into display arts.
Used plastic straws were collected, cleaned, and repurposed to make posters to spread plastic pollution awareness.
Used straws repurposed into lamp shade embellishment.
Bread expiry tags are not recyclable. They can be useful for organizing cable cords, scraping gunk off your nonstick pans, keeping matching socks together before laundering, embellishing home decor, and more.
Repurposing glass bottles to form a barrier for your garden.

Although glass bottles and jars are 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without any loss in purity or quality, a vast majority of glass still ends up at landfills. Glass can be reused indefinitely and can be repurposed to form a barrier for your garden, cut into a drinking glass, refill any liquid, use as hanging decor, candlestick stand, build a wall or make glass bottles wall with mesh fencing and so on! I am happy to know about Refine.sg – an art glass recycling studio, collecting glass bottles for glass art and workshop in Singapore!

Empty Orangina bottles repurpose into chandelier at the Blackmarket Concept Store in Singapore.

When I started my zero waste journey in 2018, I experienced some form of eco-anxiety as I realized almost everything in the house was packed and wrapped in plastic! Thankfully, I learned about the ecobricks! So I started cleaning and chucking all sorts of non-biodegradable waste into used plastic bottles. Warning: It’s hard work making ecobricks! Refusing all sorts of non-biodegradable is definitely much easier. After 6 months, I gave up making ecobricks and donated my cleaned non-biodegradable waste to ecobricks workshops instead. Have fun! I’m out.

Find the most commonly used plastic bottles in your community to make ecobricks with clean and dry non-biodegradable waste. Photo credits: ecobrick.it and phys.org – A student in Bontoc, Northern Philippines proudly holds his ecobricks.

Ecobricks concept is brilliant. In poorer countries, plastic pollution is a big problem as they do not have a proper waste management system in place. On the other hand, accessibility and buying construction materials to build can be challenging for most villages in remote rural areas. Ecobricks became a solution to combat the plastic pollution problem, repurposed into construction materials to build anything including furniture, garden wall, house, and other structures.

Old tires are pounded with earth to build a solid wall. Photo credit: Sub Urban Grow – I learned about this from one of the founders of Build For Tomorrow who specialized in sustainable building solutions.
Repurpose food waste into cleaning products like eco enzyme, multipurpose cleaning solution, and coffee scrub! Photos on the right and below show how I repurposed old name cards simply by painting it over.
Old name cards are repurposed into gift cards by painting its front and back with white acrylic paint.

It can take up a lot of time, energy, and cost to recycle 1 to 7 times depending on the material or not at all. Most businesses would rather spend that money and time to make new products to sell for profits. Moreover, recycling is not 100% guarantee as most of the time, materials are contaminated due to incorrect recycling and a centralized collection system. Therefore, practice Refuse as much as possible. If you cannot refuse, do your best to Reduce any potential waste. If you cannot reduce, clean material for Reuse and Refill, or Repair, Re-gift, and Repurpose before Recycling. If you must recycle, recycle responsibly. Learn about the low-down of recycling as you volunteer with Tzu Chi Foundation in your country to help sort the recyclables donated, reflect about your lifestyle and raise funds for the NGO at the same time. Win-win-win!

Share your Repair, Re-gift, Repurpose ideas by leaving a reply below!

Published by jsmntuan

A self-confessed shopaholic, hoarder, collector and a well organized one, Jasmine Tuan, a designer, a creative brand consultant, co-owned and ran a fashion concept store in Singapore featuring the best of Asia designers, went from having a walk-in wardrobe, downsized to a rack full, to zero shopping on new fashion items in 2018. She also began her zero waste journey the same year, by applying the 5Rs principles in this order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot daily. She added 'Rethink' in front of the 5Rs as she believes everything begins from the head.

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