“Fixit Clinic” volunteers on Peninsula fight climate change by keeping gadgets out of landfills

REDWOOD CITY — Californians throw about 40 million tons of trash into landfills each year, including gadgets, electronics, appliances, toys and items that no longer work. On the Peninsula, an army of volunteers is showing people that they have the power to fix it.

The Redwood City Public Library on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Middlefield Road is the site for those who crave lifelong learning, historical perspectives, fresh ideas, culture, news, and community.

It is also the location where seasoned volunteers hold a “Fixit Clinic.”

These are workshops where neighbors are helping their neighbors fix their consumer electronics, household appliances and gadgets of all kinds.

It is one of many public libraries around San Mateo County and the Bay Area where residents can disassemble, troubleshoot, and repair their broken items, learn new lifelong skills, and work together.

“We see everything. It’s kind of like improv. You never know what the public is going to bring you. I would say most stuff is anything you see on BestBuy or Amazon,” noted Fixit Clinic Director Peter Mui.

The Fixit clinic is organized by the San Mateo County’s Office of Sustainability but it is run by Mui and his intrepid volunteers, equipped with just the right gear.

Volunteers come from diverse backgrounds and have worked in everything from electronics, software engineering, health care, auto mechanics, and more.

They provide a workspace and the tools – including specialty screwdrivers – and help you fix your items, and learn how to provide routine maintenance. The volunteers often help each other if they get stumped.

“We all have a variety of knowledge and backgrounds and if I’m working on something I don’t know, I’ll go and grab somebody else and say hey you know I’m trying to fix this Mixmaster. Have you ever done this before, and we’ll do it together,” explained volunteer Frank Peavy.

The goal of the clinic is simple: to keep fixable items out of municipal landfills.

“Because the earth needs us to; because we keep messing up,” declared volunteer Cindy Navarro.

Mui told CBS News Bay Area that our society has to move away from mindless consumerism and planned obsolescence.

“Our consumption is killing the planet, that we’re basically using up the resources of the planet faster than we can replenish them,” he warned.

It is well known that solid waste and organic materials dumped at landfills contribute to climate change through the generation of a potent greenhouse gas known as methane.

But studies have also linked discarded electronics as a producer of greenhouse gases and a contributor to climate change.

In the United States, each year, more than 146 million tons of stuff that includes e-waste ends up in our landfills.

“We have a waste reduction program in our county and one of the ways for us to reduce waste we see is through repairing and creating this concept that things are getting fixed instead of thrown into landfill,” said Shova Ale Magar who is a sustainability specialist with San Mateo County.

At the workshop, CBS News Bay Area met with Diane Heditsian who was determined to get her vintage Sunbeam MixMasters working again.

“I came here today to see if we could fix it,” said Heditsian.

The San Mateo County residents said the blenders belonged to her mother and grandmother.

“These really represent me as a little girl, learning in the kitchen especially next to my mother,” she noted.

To bring an item to the clinic in person, one has to register online and there are no walk-ins. There is no cost.

While there’s no guarantee your stuff will be fixed, if it can be repaired, the whole workshop will hear about it. Miu and the staff make an announcement, take photographs, and ring Tibetan Bells.

There were lots of success stories including waffle irons, vacuum cleaners, porcelain figurines, and an 84-year-old vintage Emerson Electric fan.

Peavy and another volunteer helped discover the culprit that was bedeviling Heditsian’s blenders. Inside the parts, they discovered a sticky, oily sludge that prevented the blades from turning. Once the gears were cleaned of all the residue, the blenders came back to life.

The Tibetan bells ring for Heditsian and her blenders to much applause.

The San Mateo County Office of Sustainability is also experimenting with “Virtual Fixit Clinics” where you may be able to try to fix something from home and get remote advice and coaching from a volunteer.

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