Nancy Lo recycled herself.
She did it so successfully that iFixit, a national re-use site with the motto “Repair is noble,” recently named her one of five “awesome women who fix stuff.”
The kudos is due to the free monthly Fix-It clinics she developed in the Twin Cities, where skillful volunteers assess, say, a problem toaster, then guide you in fixing it. You walk away with a repaired toaster, and a skill.
“It’s very empowering,” said Lo, 44, a waste reduction and recycling specialist with Hennepin County’s Department of Environmental Services. “If you can fix a belt on your vacuum cleaner, maybe you start to think, ‘I can fix this lamp.’ It’s a whole mind-set that starts once you fix something.”
Lo, of Minneapolis, was a Star Tribune copy editor when she saw that there were too few recycling bins for all the paper being discarded. “I’d scrounge around in the basement for containers,” she said. “People started asking me questions: ‘Where should I take this?’ ‘What about packing peanuts and bubble wrap?’ ”
She discovered that she liked being a resource for people, so she joined an AmeriCorps program, which connected her to the Minnesota Green Corps, which placed her with Hennepin County. The first Fix-It clinic opened in 2012.
“Everybody has broken stuff, but we may not know how to fix it or what’s needed, so we throw it away and buy new,” Lo said. “The clinics are a way to not have to throw something away.”
She’s thrilled about the success of the clinics, but would like to attract more kids. “At home, they tend to hear, ‘Don’t take that apart. Don’t make a mess.’ Here’s a chance to do all those things they’re naturally curious about and inclined to do.”
Not everything is fixable, and participants are expected to help, so she admits the clinics aren’t for everyone.
“It does take a little bit of time,” she said, adding that there’s no shame in paying someone else to repair something for you. The point is to try to fix what you have.
And if that blender or iPod really is kaput, “at least now you can make a good decision about throwing it away.” There’s also info on drop-off sites for electronics recycling.
Lo wants to expand our definition of re-use and recycle.
“I’d like see more interest in reducing the amount of food we throw away, not overbuying at the grocery store. Those aren’t really expiration dates on the labels, as in, food isn’t going to poison you. There’s just no reason we have to waste that much food.”
Her recycled profession has paid off in many ways.
“The repair spirit is starting to spread,” she said. “And it never hurts to be called awesome.”