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Exploring our repair data and our environmental impact together

While we haven’t been able to repair together, we’re hard at work on a new project to explore our repair data and our environmental impact. We’re happy to announce the support of the ACTION (Participatory science toolkit against pollution), helping us incorporate a “citizen science” approach.

Around 80% of a small electronic device’s carbon footprint is emitted before it even reaches European shores. What if we can’t use stuff for longer by fixing it? What if these products are impossible to repair by design? And crucially, what are the real environmental impacts? We’d like to explore this together with our repair community, and engage the wider public.

Learning together about our environmental impact

Table of our historic reference data, with data quality scores

We calculate the positive impact of repairs made at events using a spreadsheet of environmental product reports compiled in 2014. Since then, we did a refresh of mobiles and tablets but now it’s time to refresh the whole lot. Things have changed in the last 6 years and it is time to address the following:

  • Products in certain categories changed significantly since the data was last updated
  • Some types of products we see at events aren’t represented in the LCA data, such as IoT devices and sewing machines
  • The data quality for many product categories was already fairly low
  • Our fundamental assumption about the carbon impact of a repair might benefit from new research

So we’ve mobilised a team of volunteers who have really made a deep dive into new available data. We’re uncovering much more detail for some kinds of products, and a real lack of data for other kinds of products. Join us! And if you are curious, check back in May for the results of this work.

Our new data workbench

Screenshot of the data workbench

The repair data we all collect at our community repair events can be incredibly powerful. Not only can we use it to measure our environmental impact but also to advocate for more repairable products and pro-repair policies. By analysing the data we all record, we learn more about why products break and how companies could make them easier to fix.

Over the past year, we mobilised volunteers to help us analyse the data we collect. Now we’re ready to formalise this and add this work as a permanent feature of our community software Restarters.net.

The Data Workbench lets you dive into the repair data collected by the whole network though a series of simple microtask activities. We design each microtask to investigate one specific aspect of repair or a particular type of device.

For example, our MiscCat microtask focused on putting devices seen at repair events into categories. Our MobiFix microtask investigated why smartphones break.

While some experience with repair is often helpful, you don’t need to be an expert to get involved.

We’re also working closely with partners in the Open Repair Alliance to include them and their data in these activities.

The end goal: more informed consumers and better policies

Our project addresses the global dimensions of pollution and consumerism, the impacts of our take-make-throw economy. Many imported goods have really short lifespans, which we try to extend at our community repair events. 

Manufacturers calculate and occasionally share the carbon impacts of their own products, as well as expected product lifetime. The insurance industry sometimes shares data on real product lifetimes, and academics or think tanks model this. But nobody has ever tried to take actual data generated by citizens at community repair events and learn from it.

We will disseminate the results of our work through the repair movement, and beyond, and use our data as evidence to influence product standards for more repairable products.

 

About ACTION

The ACTION (Participatory science toolkit against pollution) project is co-funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 framework. ACTION co-designs methodologies, tools and guidelines to open the scientific process to new groups and communities, making citizen science more participatory, inclusive, citizen-led and democratic.

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