The whir of sewing machines and the clang of work tools filled the first floor of the Lafayette main branch library Saturday as volunteers revived residents’ broken possessions during a No Waste Louisiana Fix It Café.
The community gathering allowed Lafayette residents to bring damaged or worn items and have them repaired or reimagined into something new — while learning about the power of reducing our waste culture, said organizer Catherine Comeaux.
Comeaux, secretary for No Waste Louisiana, said she’s always been interested in trash and what happens to our waste. One of her first big acts in the no waste movement was partnering with another parent to bring recycling to Lafayette Parish public schools in 2016.
While researching recycling, she realized how problematic the endeavor can be. Recyclable items pile up faster than they can be repurposed, she said, and countries and vendors who originally accepted recycled products are overcapacity.
“Recycling is not the answer to fixing the problem of waste. We can’t recycle our way out of the plastic waste problem that’s happening right now,” Comeaux said.
At about the same time, she helped found No Waste Louisiana, an environmental education organization with chapters in Lafayette and New Orleans. The group advocates for sustainable living and the adoption of waste-free living practices.
At the Fix It Cafés, community members can bring bikes, jewelry, clothing, electronics, toys, furniture and other items for volunteers to repair or creatively reimagine them to prevent them from being tossed out. On Saturday, fixers worked on lamps, coffee machines and other items.
One woman was beaming as she walked out clutching a rabbit statue, after a fixer helped reattach its ear. Sentimental fixes like that are heartwarming, Comeaux said.
No Waste’s Lafayette chapter has hosted the café for roughly two years and aims to have at least one event a season. The café has floated to different locations around town, including the main Lafayette library branch, the Lafayette Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Deuxieme Vie Creative, Comeaux said.
“One way to avoid waste is to look at how things are made and figure out how they can be redesigned to either be fixable, reusable or more easily broken down,” she said.
Ange Riehl, a jewelry maker and an art teacher at Southside High School, worked with co-volunteer Mary Attwood on a steady stream of projects. The two women set to work with hand tools, wire, clasps and jump rings, serving at least 25 people with between two to six pieces each.
Riehl said her passion for repurposing jewelry began when she was 14 years old and started collecting broken or discarded pieces from garage sales and transforming them into something new and beautiful.
“I loved the idea of taking something old or broken or ugly and giving it a new life,” Riehl said.
She did just that Saturday, rescuing people’s snapped elastic bracelets, broken earrings and poorly sized jewelry. She said seeing their delight with the fixed pieces was the best takeaway of the day.
Jean Edwards was one of the happy beneficiaries of Riehl’s work. Edwards, a retired University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor, said she’s always been an art lover and craft jewelry collector.
When she saw Riehl’s post advertising the Fix It Café on Facebook, she gathered her jewelry and hustled over to the library. Riehl was able to turn two broken brooches into hanging pendants and repair several pairs of earrings for her, including a pair from her sister-in-law she “wore to death,” Edwards said.
“I think it’s wonderful. I wish they’d do it every week. I hate that the alternative is to chuck what breaks and buy new,” Edwards said.