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Fixing our throw-away economy

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We appeared this week on BBC Breakfast, talking about the importance of repair. Here is a summary of what The Restart Project does and why repair is so crucial to fix our throw-away economy.

What you can do

Get involved with our work:

Why repair

Repair is simply common sense. People are tired of throw-away products: they remember when appliances lasted longer. One day we will look back at the past couple of decades and just shake our heads.

Electronics are very much our blind spot. It’s amazing to see people getting involved in plastic waste, food waste, fast fashion. But electronics have massive invisible environmental impacts too. The UK is the world’s second highest producer of e-waste per capita, producing 55 lb per year (source: United Nations University). The other top producing countries are much better at recycling than we are: between a quarter and a third of all e-waste ends up in landfill in the UK.

Up to 80% of all energy used in the life of an electronic device happens at manufacturing, before it reaches us. This means that the only way we can reduce our environmental impact is by using our electronics for longer. The greenest device is the one we already have.

About us

The Restart Project helps people learn how to repair their broken electronics, through our Restart Parties: free community repair events where participants can work with a skilled volunteer to fix anything with a plug or a battery.

They’re spaces for learning skills and reflecting about how we consume in the first place. Repair is fun, it’s social, it saves money, and helps us be creative and constantly learn.

We help other groups get started. And we’re part of a larger movement of community repair groups across the world, which keeps growing. Last month we held Fixfest UK, a UK-wide event in Manchester with 59 activists from 25 groups from Belfast to Pembrokeshire to Leeds.

What we can repair – and can’t

We also collect data about our work, to make barriers to repair more visible and push for change in the way products are made.

The most popular products we fix at our events are laptops, mobiles, small kitchen appliances, hi-fi components and lamps. We repair a little over half of what is brought on the spot. A fifth is end-of-life.

With the rest, repair could be possible, but there are barriers. Often we refer unfinished repairs to professionals, however they share some of the same barriers we experience:

  • lack of access to spare parts
  • lack of repair documentation and tools
  • product design often making disassembly impossible

There is massive public support to bring down these barriers, and for us to have the Right to Repair the stuff we buy. People overwhelmingly want more repairable products and they think the government should ensure this – more and more studies show this, both at European level and in the UK. A study just published by the Green Alliance proves public support for repairable products.

4 responses

  1. Carl Wildon

    Superb ….. I am an ex-d&t teacher with a whole bundle of skills. Just started up as a local handy man. This has been an issue for years now / built in obsolescence in corporate products is verging on criminal.

  2. Ugo Vallauri

    Hi Carl, hopefully you can join our community and help share skills at events

  3. Morning. I have been repairing things for best part of 45 years and although i have been employed by other companies I have always fixed things. I now have it as a full time job. Much as I applaud the sentiment of repairing things I don’t think you quite appreciate the manufacturers take on things. For the best part of 30 years they have been working toward designed in obsolescence which, for all practical purposes means that everything has a design life and it is generally 14 months, just past its traditional guarantee. This was harder to achieve earlier in the scheme but with lead free solder forced onto the electronics market (H&S gone mad) and the global use of the switched mode power supply, we have an ideal situation for them. It is therefore not possible to buy equipment, be it white goods such as washing machines, through to mobile phones, laptops, hifi, even the humble light bulb.
    My business revolves around repairs but the skills I employ include reverse engineering, component level electronic repair, re-manufacture, software fixes, metalwork, woodwork, wiring, and on equipment from 1930 to the present. Some equipment can be repaired without question but there is a huge part of the current output of the world that has zero value and is totally disposable once it makes the end of the design life. My business is predominantly in the music industry so think amplifiers, organs, digital piano’s, synths, public address etc, and there is equipment in this range that arrives where the design life is actually longer than the thing lasts and the damage is such that there is nothing left to repair. Not all manufacturers are good enough at the basic job of making something to justify their continued business.
    You will find that manufacturers don’t really supply spares, they are generally available only from third parties and you will also find that support is to all practical extents non existent.
    Peoples expectations of their equipment can be very varied. I have people who are largely unaware that things like 35 year old Technics organs actually have a value that is less than £5 and it must be repairable. Likewise if you have spent £790 on a Ampeg PF500 bass amp and it is nothing more than a carbon brick just on its first birthday you have to get some realism in your life. People who make this stuff are not likely to try to improve their processes. It took Samsung best part of 15 years worth of models of TV before they realised that putting heat sensitive components above things that got hot on the printed circuit board was exactly the way to make a TV last the shortest time and then did nothing to fix it apart from changing the design to cut the number of capacitors needed. That is one of the reasons why the tips are full of TV’s the other being the ball grid array (BGA) chip which in all its various designs and uses is a liability especially where its heat cannot be extracted because of the need to make things too thin. A BGA chip can be in your phone, hifi, even your washing machine but the most popular place is in your computer or TV. Any TV that shows only half a picture or has digital artifacts, or just doesn’t seem to work properly it is likely that the BGA has come away from the circuit board. It cannot be replaced. Two components designed to just about work when connected but the very connection, with hundreds of points of failure means that the heat and different rates of thermal expansion, means that every TV will fail. Designed in obsolescence is a reality and a must have else we won’t have anyone making anything as they will go out of business.
    You cannot buy better equipment with a longer life. Whether you pay £200 for a washing machine or £2000 there is nothing in the design of either that will ensure it lasts longer. You might get 10 years out of the cheaper one. It is entirely a lottery! After 10 years why would you pay someone £180 to come and change its pump? It makes absolutely no sense. You could buy a replacement pump from Eparts for example at £40 and fit it yourself but that is a risk that most are not at all interested in taking as by passing the risk onto a third party for a fee you remove your responsibility. Its a funny world. Most of my customers have no idea what they are asking and some are so stupid (usually the hifi people) that they think that any piece of junk from the past 80 years can be fixed just by waving a magic wand over it.
    There is no money in repairs. I have yet to make more than £2000 profit a year since I started doing this. My job is for the love of the work not to make me an income. It is unlikely that, given the amount of research, chasing parts, etc, that anyone now could make money from it. How many TV repair places are there left in the country? Its the end of the line for repairs and we have been pushed out of the job by the very things that are designed into equipment. Thank goodness for old gear which is well worth repairing and although it still has quirks is likely to keep going for much longer than modern junk.
    I write for Hifi World magazine and have my home workshop down here in kent.

  4. Jonathan Bellis

    I’m a semi retired project management consultant and Chartered environmentalist and have delivers cpd events in the property sector Keen to get involved in this great initiative.

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