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Let’s give repair a chance!

Post originally published on the blog of Resource Conference, a free event on the circular economy.

In conversations on the circular economy, especially related to electronics, we often feel that repair is little more than an afterthought. Yet, extending the lifespan of an existing device provides tangible benefits: it reduces waste management costs as well as the resources and energy used to produce new devices.

In less than two years, we have run over 50 pop-up repair events in communities, education institutions and companies around London, helping over 1,000 people learn more about the steps they can take to extend the life of their smartphones, laptops, printers, headphones, mp3 players, kettles – as well as inspiring other groups around the world to replicate our work.

At such events, our repair success rate is often limited by three key factors

  1. the lack of freely accessible, official service manuals
  2. the price and availability of quality spare parts
  3. trade-offs in between repairability and miniaturisation, making repairs more challenging and time-consuming and upgrades simply impossible

The design of future products and improvements in sustainability and resource-efficiency at production level play an important but not exclusive role in this scenario. Similarly, innovation in the packaging of products, in the water efficiency of manufacturing plants and in the amount of resources recovered from end-of-life products is simply not enough.

As Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, a hugely successful and innovative clothing company says “Making things in a more responsible way is a good start … but in the end we will not have a ‘sustainable economy’ unless we consume less.”

Last year we launched mini-campaign with a simple message: the most ethical smartphone is the one you already have. The same applies to printers as well as toasters. Manufacturers should contribute to this vision and focus on long-term, loyal relationships with consumers based on openness of repair information, repairability, upgradeability and availability of spare parts. Which manufacturer will be the first Patagonia of the electronics industry?

Ugo spoke on the panel “Electrical items and WEEE – ownership/leasing models, take back, upgrade and repair: rethinking product lifecycles” alongside reps from Nokia and HP.

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