One of the main issues the electronics industry faces is the prevalence of ‘planned obsolescence’ – that is, the practice of releasing products that are designed to become outdated after a short period of time, thereby shortening the replacement cycle and forcing consumers to constantly upgrade. Planned obsolescence makes repairing broken goods unappealing because it is more difficult and costly than simply replacing them. (See the Lightglobe Conspiracy, full movie here).
In 2011, the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) found up to 23% of household waste electrical and electronic equipment could be re-used with a small amount of repair. The constant production of replacement goods contributes to a range of other issues: it stimulates demand for conflict minerals and tin mining, creates a significant amount of e-waste and pollution, and limits the ability of electronics companies to cut carbon emissions.
Better design, resulting in longer-lasting phones and decreased obsolescence, could reduce e-waste and also cut demand for tin, lessening the negative impacts of tin mining in Indonesia and other countries.
Real innovation in design, moving beyond the “designed for the dump” norm, is happening but presently only at the fringes of the industry. Fairphone, Phonebloks – a modular phone concept, and Google’s Open source Project Ara (see Wired article).
Key Repair resources – I FIX IT!
- ifixit.org – Why repair? Repair saves you money. It saves the environment. And it connects us to our things. Ditch the throwaway economy. Find out more on the reasons Why. Join the repair revolution.
- ifixit.com – The free repair manual. iFixit is a global community of people helping each other repair things. Let’s fix the world, one device at a time.
Existing Campaigns and Advocacy Work
- Electronics Take Back Coalition
- World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association
- Waste and Resources Action Program
Opportunities for Action
- Don’t just throw out old electronics if they stop working – see if they can be repaired, and if not recycle it with a reputable e-waste recycling scheme.
- Identify which companies produce the electronic goods you use and encourage them to invest in longer-lasting designs and products.
- Buy second-hand. Check out the Reuse initiative.