Finding [award-winning ways] to fix it

By Kyle Hobstetter on July 24, 2019

Towson University’s inaugural Fix-It Fair helped students learn how to repurpose items instead of discarding them

TU Students repurposing jeans at the Fix-It Fair
Students repurpose old blue jeans into a reusable utensil/multipurpose pouch as part of the Office of Sustainability's Fix-It Fair. 

Waste less, fix more. That’s the challenge Towson University presented to its students this past year.

During the 2019 spring academic term, TU’s Office of Sustainability held the inaugural Fix-It Fair, a one-day event featuring a mix of hands-on demos, Q&As, repair help and workshops to engage students to think about repairing or repurposing items before throwing them away. 

“Instead of just focusing on just recycling, we wanted to focus on how we can prevent something from going into any of those bins, whether that be landfill, compost or recycling,” says Angela Ober, and environmental planner in the Office of Sustainability. 

The Fix-It Fair was TU’s primary event as part of RecycleMania, a national eight-week competition between college and university recycling programs that promoted waste reduction activities to their campus communities.

Over 300 campuses in 43 states competed in RecycleMania this year, engaging 4.25 million students and 900,000 faculty and staff members for a total of more than 5.1 million participants. 

Towson University made its mark by winning a Case Study Award for its work on the Fix-It Fair. It’s the second time TU won a RecycleMania Case Study Award; the first was in 2017.

According to its website, RecycleMania’s case studies help universities share their success in promoting and improving recycling and waste reduction as well as help other schools improve their own sustainability outreach.

“Just to be recognized for our hard work is just really exciting,” Ober says. “As soon as we heard the news we sent emails out to all of our contributors. It was just great that we all aligned together so we could put this event on collaboratively.” 

The idea of a Fix-It Fair was inspired by similar communal repair workshops like the Station North Tool Library, or repair cafes located in Europe. And while those workshops mainly just provide tools, TU’s Fix-It Fair was focused on how to help students be more sustainable. 

For the Fix-It Fair, The Office of Sustainability partnered with the Office of Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility, the College of Fine Arts’ theatre department, the Office of Technological Services, Campus Rec, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and TU’s Eco-Reps Program.   

The fair was volunteer-led by designated experts from on- and off-campus organizations. Workshops included: 

  • Fix It: Clothing — A TU Theatre Arts Department representative performed a repurposing project, turning old blue jeans into a reusable utensil/multipurpose pouch. General questions on hand sewing and home machine sewing were also answered.
  • Fix It: Computers — TU Office of Technology Services representatives answered computer troubleshooting questions and educated students on how to recondition a computer.
  • Fix It: Gear — Campus Recreation Services representatives and a representative from SewLab, a Baltimore-based sewing education studio, performed zipper repairs, gear repair and patching of clothing, in addition to advice on common issues.
  • Fix It: Bikes — Representatives from the Baltimore Metropolitan Council promoted alternative transportation and gave away portable bike repair tools.

The fair also featured three do-it-yourself projects led by TU’s student EcoReps. This included making homemade laundry detergent, Mason jar sewing kits and making reusable bags out of old T-shirts. 

According to Ober, these projects were intended to illustrate creative ways to repurpose items and reduce waste besides just reusing an item.

“I think at least everyone got some sort of knowledge from their experience,” Ober says. “I think all these workshops and programs also show how creative everyone at Towson University is.”