What to do when items are brought for repair just to be resold?

Over in another thread, @Phil_Harris raised an interesting scenario for repair cafes - when someone brings an item for repair solely with the intention of selling it on once fixed. It’s a really useful discussion, so I’ve split it out into a new topic and moved the discussion over. What are your thoughts?

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I disagree on principle: if my aim is to stop stuff going to landfill I should be willing to repair it.

Isn’t avoiding landfill one of the aims of Restart? And the Repair Cafe organisation?


We have had this conversation too. It is hard to judge and I agree, any item not in landfill is a win, but it is a challenge when obvious abuse is happening. I remember one chap turning up two months in a row with bags of random stuff that he clearly had not owned or knew anything about.

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I agree with both @Phil_Harris & @Ian_Barnard :confounded::
it is an abuse of the system, but it’s also keeping stuff out of landfill.

A couple of suggestions for moderating the problem.

  • Don’t allow more than 1 or 2 items per person: this is the usual rule at Restart Parties.
  • Insist that they participate in the repair, which was always Restart’s intention.
    If they’re forced to do a lot of the tedious work themselves, they may get bored and switch to some other scummy hustle modus pecuniae.

P.S. A community bike repair organisation that I used to volunteer with had an analogous problem:
what do you do if someone turns up with a bike that is very likely stolen but, for instance, needs its brakes fixing? Do you refuse to fix the brakes with the obvious safety implication?


I’ve not really encountered an obvious repair-to-sell situation before. I notice that on Trashnothing, the guidelines include the following:

Anyone who plans to resell items must say in their posts and messages that they plan to resell items they receive. This gives the people giving away items the chance to decide whether they want their item to be resold or not.

At RC Lambeth we only allow one item per person, it is written on the data sheet and I insist on it at the front desk. Plus we tell volunteers that if anyone arrives at their table and produces more items, to send them back to the front desk for another data sheet and a place in the queue. Our queue is often an hour waiting (even with 20+ volunteers) and it’s not fair on people waiting when volunteers are tied up with multiple repairs for a single person. Not had a complaint about this from anyone.

We’ve got a couple of regulars who turn up every time with clothes they’ve bought at charity shops to be altered to fit. (They are also in stiff competition with each other for queue position and frequently bicker and moan to us about each other - our own little soap opera!) We leave it to the sewing team to refuse if they want to but they are very generous with their time and effort. Plus the whole thing is quite entertaining.

The cheekiest I’ve seen was a couple who said they’d brought a watch to fix. When they got seated at a table they produced 8 watches and some Bluetooth speakers. One watch was inspected, battery purchase advised and then they were sent away and never seen again.

We often get people who readily admit they just got something from the dump, or found in the street, or got from one of the free-cycle type sites, no idea if they will keep or sell the item but it is an item potentially saved from landfill so all good afaic. When we have instances of electrical devices that cannot be fixed or not worth fixing I might suggest they put it on eBay for 99p as “not working, for parts” which, in my experience, is preferable to recycling.


Some good ideas there, thanks Monica.

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen all the time, it’s just that we have had a few recently.

I sympathise with the ‘keep it out of landfill at all costs’ argument, but I just feel that we willing repairers sometimes think more of the articles than their owners do!

One of my specialisms is clock repairs. We get a lot of mechanical clocks brought in for repair, and in a significant number of instances the clock is maybe 80 years old and has never been serviced. Such clocks basically require 10-15 hours of skilled work costing upwards of £250 to restore them to working order, far beyond what can be achieved in a Repair Cafe environment. In terms of inherent monetary value, and the cost of new clocks, these are beyond economic repair and it’s only the sentimental value (if any) that dictates its eventual fate.

In such cases we refer owners to local professional horologists. Feedback suggests that very few of these referrals leads to a repair.


Great question. I think for our own RC I’d concur with the above:

  • if it’s 1 item
  • AND the person who has brought it gets involved in the fix
  • AND they source any spare parts needed
  • AND it’s not an absolute banger that’s going to tie up one repairer for the whole session

then I’m OK with it.

If someone tried to bring multiple items per session, thinks they can drop them off and collect them at the end, etc, then that’s not OK.


That seems pretty reasonable, especially the first. The others would put him to the back of the queue anyway in my book. I wouldn’t have a problem with someone making a small profit from diverting stuff from landfill, but it would be emminently reasonable to suggest a donation if he made a habit of it.

We operate a booking system using Eventbrite, so it would be fairly easy to download the booking info into a cumulative file and sort by email address to highlight frequent visitors. (An Excel wizard could also use a pivot table to calculate and list numbers of bookings per person, making potential offenders even more obvious.)


In Reparations.Konsortiet in Aarhus, Denmark we do the following:

Start every repair by asking a bit into the history of the item they bring in. This is a good way to get the small talk started, understand the persons relation to the item (risk willingness) and understand what might have caused the item to break.

If people tell that the item is got for free, we then get a feeling on how interested the people are in repairing themselves. If they are interested, we help them on a equal level with all the other guests. For us the repair café concept is all about teaching people new skills. If they are not willing, then we help them as little as possible. When you have been sitting around for 1 hours without too much help, then you normally leave again.

This way have proven quite succesful, since the ones who solely come for trying to make us fix their items for free leaves, while the majority who comes for help and is interested in learning something new stays and get a good experience. Out of 100 guests we maybe see 1 - 2 people like this.


Having introduced the term “principle” to this discussion and thought/learned around the comments above, here’s my suggestion for three principles I would apply, most important first:

#1. Fairness: our repairers are in short supply/high demand, with limited time to repair, so our events should (without any type of bias or preference) operate a ‘fair’ way of getting access to those scarce skills, such as (but not limited to, there are many ways of slicing the cake) a one-item-one-place-in-the-queue basis where people bringing multiple items, whatever their subjective worthiness, have to accept that only once they get one item to be attempted repair then subsequent items go into the end of the queue.

#2. Avoiding recycling or landfill: How can I (I can’t) attempt to judge someone’s need for an item to be repaired: maybe they will need to sell the item, or maybe they’ll treasure it - there’s no way I could objectively attempt to judge the validity of their need to repair the item - so I won’t: after applying principle #1 and the item is there in front of me I’ll do my level best to repair it while also observing principle #3

#3. Education/involvement: there’s no doubt for me that while saving an item from recycling/landifll is a higher priority (i.e. principle #2) there’s also an important need to educate at both a strategic level of the need for a repair-not-recycle/dump attitude for users and for buying-consumers to guide their acquisitions, and also at a tactical level to educate/involve in at least some of the basics of repair, such as the critical importance of basic maintenance activities (e.g. cleaning filters, unclogging brushes/bearings, removing gunge, etc.) and of some simple diagnostic methods of which the most basic is: is it getting power (is the fuse blown/battery flat/cable broken/connector broken?)

Note that #3 education/involvement is the lowest priority for me because while I could take some sort of ‘they aren’t interested in learning so why should I fix it’ attitude that doesn’t reduce landfill.

Overall, I feel very fortunate/lucky/something to have some skills to be able to do repairs but that doesn’t qualify me to decide that someone should/shouldn’t have an item repaired.

Anyway that’s my thoughts.


Another reason for the one-item-at-a-time rule, and something I often have to explain, is that the volunteer you get seated with may not be able to fix each of the things you brought. A laptop fixer won’t necessarily be able to patch the hole in your jumper. Apparently this is not obvious.


I like and agree with Ian’s three principles.

At our repair cafe, we do allow more than one item per person, as long as we aren’t too busy and they fill in a separate registration form for each item.

‘Education’ most often takes the form of explaining what we are doing. Certain repairs are outside the scope of the typical householder and, if attempted by someone without the correct tools or knowledge, can quickly render an item beyond repair anyway.


Maybe because I’m much less knowledgeable an experienced as you but I’ve always considered your third item, education, a much higher priority. This, for me, is a key distinction between a community repair event and a repair service.


I’m definitely not saying these three paragraphs are the answer to world peace, they’re just my way of expressing my own preferences/opinions.

Yes, I remember you saying that before.

I considered swapping the order of 2 and 3, but it seems to me I can’t try to educate without attempting a repair, and while I think most repair technique is mainly the practical application of some general knowledge of what to try, there are aspects that could be dangerous to give the impression that anyone could just do them - in particular the hazards of working with mains voltages.

Some of the learning that’s going on while trying to repair something is me picking new stuff up, and the repair record sheet going (hopefully) into fixometer is us all learning from the repair.

The main concern I had at the top is that I can’t be judge and jury of the value of a repair. Subject to fairness of access to repair, I want the item to (hopefully) be repaired and if the owner then sells it that’s some of the circular economy in action, isn’t it?