Can we fix it?
No we can’t. Or at least not any more. In this day and age Bob would be hard pushed to match his moniker. Once things were built to last or came with instructions and parts, so that repairs were easy. My dad would stalk the house with a screw driver or a bag of nails, and I would come home from school to see a pair of feet poking out from under the car. And my mum was a dab hand with a needle and thread. There was satisfaction to be gained and pennies to be saved from a practical hand. Not for everyone of course, but now we rarely get the choice.
Throw and replace
The consumer society gives us a world of household appliances and plug-in devices, and when they break we have little choice but to throw and replace. Manufacturers offer no spare parts or repair instructions and often seal in the the mechanics so we can’t get at them, even if we knew how to fix them. They coax you into extended warranties and insurance contracts, which usually means sending a replacement.
The cost of convenience
The throwaway culture is a source of frustration to many. Cheap clothing, convenience foods and single use products are costing the Earth. Consider the following statistics from the BBC:
- Between 2004 and 2012, the proportion of major household appliances that died within five years more than doubled.
- Of junked washing machines at a recycling centre more than 10% were less than five years old.
- A well-made (and longer-lasting) washing machine will generate over a tonne less CO2 than the many short-lived models you would otherwise need over two decades of washing.
- Increasing numbers of lamps sold in Europe come with fixed light bulbs that you can’t replace. So when the bulb fails, so does the lamp.
Right to repair
Citizens in the EU and parts of the USA have pushed for a right to repair, resulting in proposals that will soon force manufacturers to make goods easier and cheaper to mend. Manufacturers will need to make spare parts available for a minimum number of years and make repair information readily available. They must also improve their design so access to key components in household appliances is easy.
EU legislation on Ecodesign and energy labelling will require manufacturers to take more responsibility for the environmental credentials of their products: materials use; water use; polluting emissions; waste issues and recyclability.
Cambridge Carbon Footprint is behind the excellent Cambridge Repair Cafes which have been running in Cambridge for over four years. Manager Alana Sinclair says: “The new EU directive is great in one sense, requiring that manufacturers will need to make replacement parts available for longer, but it doesn’t touch on whether or not manufactures lock buyers into using approved channels for acquiring those parts (meaning buyers might need to pay an authorised repairer) or what the cost for those parts should be.” So, there is still a way to go but it is a step in the right direction. Of course, repair information should be available to everyone, so at least we have the choice to fix things ourselves. I will be speaking with Alana again soon, with a blog about Cambridge Carbon Footprint to follow.
Help at hand
If you can’t fix something you have several options. At scuseme we have a reliable team of local tradespeople who are great at mending stuff. Our skilled engineers deal with enquiries about faulty white goods, and our handymen will come for a range of different repair jobs, and of course we have electricians and plumbers on hand too.
Or you can go along to a Cambridge Repair Cafes where you will meet skilled repairers who will help you, and share valuable tips and skills. Repairers will work on small household appliances and electrical items, computers, books, mobile phones, bicycles, clothes and general bits n bobs. The next one is at Sawston on the 2nd February and a collect and fix fest on the 16th February in East Chesterton.
Plan B: Recycle in Cambridge
Some things just cannot be fixed. If this is the case, then make your plan B to recycle and do your bit for the environment. Electrical and electronic items are made up of a wide variety of materials, many of which can be reused. So, if your electrical item has a plug, charger, uses batteries of carries the WEEE wheelie bin logo (a crossed-out wheelie bin), it can be recycled. If you can’t be bothered to fix something but you think that someone else may, then you can list it on Freecycle. And here are some other useful site: