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Dare to repair?

Dru Haynes

July 2021

From this summer, consumers will have a right to repair on appliances such as fridges, washing machines and TVs under new rules. Complaints from consumers that goods don’t last long enough and can’t be fixed, has led ministers to confirm that they will go ahead with the commitment to implement EU rules aimed at cutting energy bills – and reducing the need for new materials.

For the first time, manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts available to consumers. It’s hoped that the new rules will reduce the 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste generated in the UK each year and help to reducing carbon emissions.

A recent series on Radio 4, Dare to Repair, highlighted our insatiable appetite for cheap, single-use, disposable electronic ‘gadgets, gizmos and appliances’. The series looks at our journey to this increasingly shameful state.

Alongside ‘programmed obsolesence’, where products are designed with a limited lifespan or a frail design by the manufacturer to increase consumption, many electronics companies make it difficult for individuals and independent repairers to fix their broken products, with specialised tools or equipment needed to complete repairs. Whilst manufacturers maintain that this is for safety reasons, it also drives a consumerist model of constant replacement and upgrades. However, public frustration is growing with this throwaway, unsustainable model and the ever increasing mass of e-waste left behind – they argue that it’s time to start repairing instead of than dumping and there are numerous organisations already helping people to repair appliances and gadgets.

Started in 2013, The Restart Project run regular ‘Restart Parties’ where people teach each other how to repair devices and appliances. Although they’re based in London, their message, and parties, are spreading across the world. With the motto – ‘don’t despair, just repair’, the aim of the movement is to bring people together and give them the skills and confidence to refurbish their own electrical gear to help reduce the mountain of e-waste which is currently growing at an alarming rate.

Alongside the ‘Restart Parties’, they also work with schools and other organisations to extend the life of electronics. By giving people a chance to talk about the kind of products they want, they use the information to help demand better, more sustainable electronics for all. The Restart Project is a people-powered social enterprise that aims to fix our relationship with electronics.

A US-based online community is also aiming to educate people in how to fix their own products. iFixit is a wiki-based site which teaches people how to fix almost anything. Anyone can create a repair manual for any device. Their goal is to empower people to share their technical knowledge with the rest of the world.

The time has come when we need to learn the environmental consequences of the throwaway society we live in. Can we learn from repair cultures around the world to recycle electronic waste? How can we develop and grow the next generation of repairers and move away from our unsustainable lust for cheap, throwaway products?