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The electronics laboratory at ETH Zürich, called "Bastli", offers students free workplaces and tools to implement their own projects. The ten-strong "Bastli" team itself works on new projects and tinkers with optimized solutions. All visitors are instructed to mend their devices themselves. In addition to theoretical knowledge, students can also solder, mill, weld or try out the 3D printer in order to get to know the practical aspects of the technologies better. The environment encourages experimentation and creative new ideas to come true, with the risk of something breaking.

Repairing and recycling electronic devices is essential for the ecological and social development of students, that often find it more convenient to throw something away than to repair it. In addition, one gains a lot of knowledge and motivation while mending all the electronic devices. In the ETH CAB, electronic scrap is often produced that can be recycled in the "Bastli" and distributed to study organizations or refugee centers. The offer of "Bastli" is financed with small funds and is only possible thanks to the voluntary work of the "Bastli" team as well as donations and money from the AMIS and FIS. The ETH makes the space of the repair shop and the facilities available for free use.

Link to the website: www.bastli.ethz.ch

Interview with Bastli*

*The interviewed person wants ro remain anonymous and speaks for the whole Bastli-Team

I: What is the "Bastli"?

P: We are an open workshop for students at ETH, that tries to bring technology closer to the people, not just theoretically but also practically. The project is about learning how to solder, weld, build electronic devices, 3D printing, milling and let one's creativity guide themselves and because of this many interesting and innovative projects emerge. I think to support this a tinkering environment is very important. Some people ask whether the "Bastli" is focused on engineers or for tinkering with carton? Many projects have an engineering background, but handcrafting is often important for ideas and creativity. The low-barrier entrance is crucial for experimenting with new things and in order to take the risk that something breaks. One important point that many visitors mentioned, was that repair, reuse and refactor is the philosophy and that we let the customers repair the devices themselves. Otherwise, we are prone to become a free service for all… and this does not work. Nobody wants to invest their free time, even though repairing electronic devices has a large ecological impact if we look at the extraction of rare materials. Repairing has not only ecological, but also a huge social impact, for example it needs a lot of know-how to repair certain devices. Many people feel more comfortable to buy new and cool things, for example laptops, instead of changing the monitor.

I: How is the "Bastli" funded?

P: The biggest part comes from student organizations of the ETH. That's the AMIS and the FIS, the organization of the academic machine- and electro-engineers and the informatic students. Further, there is the professor Kollar of the institute of power electronics that supports us with donations. We come a long way with little money, it is about 7'000 Franks per year. And of course, the space of the ETH and the infrastructure, internet, the furniture which was offered to us. We had many projects that were sent us by production companies, that did not want to throw away their gadgets, for example drones and the students can use them for free here. Right next to us is the electronic waste of the CAB of the ETH, that we search though to for old monitors or computers. We try to repair and reuse them in refugee centers or student organizations, that are badly equipped.

I: The "Bastli" provides a low-barrier access, how do you think this could be increased in Zürich?

P: The city or the ETH could increase the fund for Repair cafes or Makerspaces because it wouldn't be possible to operate it like a business. Just the rent would cost more than 20 franks per hour, and it wouldn't be profitable. The ETH is expanding the Student-Project-House at the Hoenggerberg in next autumn to the center, where they plan to do a workshop as well. If we could integrate more students in the school curriculum, to do more handcrafted lessons that would certainly help. But I think that more ubiquitous solutions are needed. Maybe you have heard of the planned obsolescent?

I: No, I haven't.

P: That is a strategy, which is used to maximize profit with products that have a artificially planned lifespan. For example, the smartphones batteries, that all stop working after three or four years or printers that mysteriously stop working. I think this is the bigger problem to a sustainable society, that we consume so much... I think that Switzerland and the EU must have better regulations for the free market to support sustainable consummation. For example, that the batteries have to be replaceable. This would help the MakerSpaces and Repair-Cafes to be more effective in renewing the devices.

Workshop Bastli (Image: www.bastli.ethz.ch)

Accessories and spare parts at Workshop Bastli (Image: www.bastli.ethz.ch)