How to fix e-waste: a repair manual?

What happens to your old electronics once you’re finished with them? Most of us don’t really like to think about it.

We know it’s not pretty. We know ‘recycling’ is probably not exactly what happens.

If you watch the news, you may have heard of Agbogbloshie, or any of the many other e-waste dumps around the world.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution, because this is what ‘recycling’ really means:

Even when a phone is recycled through more ‘official’ means, up to 40% of the metals are lost during the smelting process. So recycling is hardly the solution.

So what is the solution? Well, there are so many problems on so many levels of the entire international electronics industry it’s overwhelming. But the most practical initiative I’ve found so far is iFixit.

iFixit’s purpose is to help people repair their electronics, rather than throwing them away. If you visit their website, you’ll find that they have lots of facts on figures about e-waste, but also lots of manuals on how to repair various electronic devices yourself. They believe that repairing and reusing/passing on electronics is not only sustainable, it’s cheaper and creates jobs. They believe recycling should be a ‘last resort’.

And when you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense. Planned obsolescence is a problem not just with electronics, but a problem with lots of consumer products. So if we know how to repair/make our products last longer, isn’t this a good thing?

I would say ‘yes’.

Unfortunately, companies like Apple (surprise, surprise) disagree.

Take this example: iFixit publishes many manuals detailing how to repair various Apple products. However, in 2011, Apple began releasing products with brand new ‘pentalobe’ screws, which, naturally, could not be unscrewed using traditional screwdrivers.

In effect, they were purposefully making it difficult for people to repair their products, encouraging them to instead buy a brand new product when their original one could just have needed a part swap. Some companies have even gone so far as to sue and shutdown small businesses and individuals that offer repair manuals

Typical.

Lots of companies believe that repair information is ‘proprietry’ and therefore owned by the company.

This type of mindset is just unsustainable. It should not be more expensive for me to buy new ink than replace the printer altogether!

This is not ok!

Ultimately, if a company sets up an affordable, convenient parts replacement and repair system, doesn’t it mean increased chance of loyalty to the brand over a longer period of time? Companies like Dell and Lenovo are already on board.

But in the end, it’s really up to us. 

So next time your laptop starts to run a little slow, maybe take it to a repair shop, or have a look online for repair tips. It’s cheaper for you, and better for the environment.

It’s only baby steps, but it’s a start.

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2 thoughts on “How to fix e-waste: a repair manual?”

  1. Great post Ainsley! It gave me a lot to think about – as a society we really don’t think about it enough. Why is it that we’re being taught to recycle and giving ourselves a pat on the back every time we put our cereal box into a separate bin; when iFixit actually say recycling should be a ‘last resort’!? We definitely need more education on how to improve the amount of waste each household produces. Change starts with us!

  2. You would think that as humans are becoming more aware of their impact on the earth that companies would be ensuring their environmental impact is as friendly as possible. However it seems this is jeopardised by the selfish greed of businesses to maximise short-term profit at the earth’s expense.

    It is wonderful that initiatives such as iFixit’s education videos are instructing people on ways to reuse their devices so electronics can be used longer. In terms of other devices that are environmentally friendly, there is also a smartphone called the Phoneblok. It is designed to reduce e-waste with consumers only having to replace individual compartments on a phone if one element of it stops working. This saves money and resources replacing the whole phone.

    Your blog presentation is fresh and minimalistic, which instantly captures the readers attention and draws them to your writing. The ideas and issues raised are succinct and well-planned, and emphasising key terms or phrases in bold allows the message to sink in. The use of images, memes and videos breaks up the text and also allows readers to absorb and mull on your ideas, well done!

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