Repair needs promotion

The 3Rs mantra of environmentalism is to reduce, reuse, recycle.  There’s been lots of focus on cutting back on reduction of energy consumption and CO2 emissions and public relations efforts have got behind recycling.  But what about reusing?

An interesting piece in the Guardian shows how difficult it is to repair modern electrical appliances.  Surely the time has come to question the ease with which we dispose of broken gadgets that we once coveted?  And also to ask, why nothing lasts as long as it could – should  not be considered an anti-social strategy?

My grandfather was an upholsterer and he reused materials – including straightening out nails – routinely in his work.  My grandmother made curtains professionally – and I had many lovely dresses (and more questionable dungarees) made from chintz off cuts as a small child.  Does anyone take the time to “make do and mend” anymore?

There are a lot of issues around recycling electrical components, not least the ethical impact on the low income workers being involved in Active Disassembly  (such as reclaiming precious metals from old mobile phones).  Isn’t it time to reconsider whether repair isn’t a better option?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

9 thoughts on “Repair needs promotion”

  1. I believe we are living in a throw away society where anything under £25 is designed to be chucked. You get molded units that my Dad, he’s a retired electrician, can’t get into. Whereas, I bought a toaster for £200 ten years ago – OK, a bit mad perhaps – and it is designed to be fixed. It’s a six slicer and is about to be sent away to get all its elements repaired for about £35. (Its a Dualit.)

    Things would need to be designed to be repaired and many cheaper items are not.

    Technology has a lot to answer for in the motor world too. My pal had a brake failure in a Mercedes Actros about 5 years ago. He was driving down a hill towards a roundabout , fully loaded with 44GWT and suddenly discovered he had no brakes. In an instant he decided to go round the roundabout the wrong way as he thought he had more clearance. It turned out OK with no other traffic on the roads. It had happened to another one of the units in the fleet. He believes it was because of this new plug-in-and-fix engines with lap-top computers that is to blame. Maybe someone can correct me?

  2. It is a disposable society – but I believe that should be addressed by government and manufacturers as part of a serious commitment to reducing impact on the environment. It should not be cheaper to buy new than get repaired. We are obsessed with increasing markets by updating products (even if only visually) which means it is costly to maintain spare parts and “just-in-time”, lean production methods have focused on mass markets and “build for today” attitudes. I know from the motor industry how many different spare parts are required in inventory – even for relatively simple things that really ought to be common to more models and makes.

    There are a lot of issues regarding cars and technology – we increasingly demand more and more safety and other systems which rely on electronics rather than mechanical devices. As such, they are less easy to repair, and do depend on download fixes as per our laptops.

    Not sure if you’ve ever seen the GM response about “if Microsoft made cars…” but it remains very true. See

  3. I’m a little tired of people on high bemoaning that people won’t recycle, re-use or reduce. It’s damned difficult. At the weekend a friend of mine told me how he isn’t allowed to recycle paper (unless he drives it 11 miles to the local tip). Someone he knows in the next door borough has no facility to recycle glass. So when they meet up, they swap! Is such bloody mindedness really necessary? As the report found here demonstrates, people are willing to do it, it just needs to be nearly as easy to make do and mend as it is to go out and get a new one!

  4. Caroline – you are absolutely right. If government wants people to get the green habit, they should make it really easy and free.

    Where my parents live in France, they don’t have collections from their house, but there are public containers every few hundred metres – so she takes her paper, glass, plastic and general rubbish there most days to dispose. It seems to work.

    They also have a truck come around regularly to collect big items – totally free of charge. Encourages everyone to clear out clutter – which can then be sorted and reused/recycled.

    There are businesses who are now making good money out of reclaiming and reusing – shame the government can’t give more of a boost to these.

  5. It is one of those “urban legend” quotes – I found in a search that apparently at a COMDEX conference, Bill Gates compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, “If GM had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”

    It dates to 2005 – for example:

  6. Thanks Heather, Would we get the boots shot off us if we used that kind of quote in a CRT or similar? I almost did, but couldn’t attribute it to anyone, so I decided aginst it.

  7. The issue is one of credibility of source – if you could find an exact report from the conference in a good news website or from Microsoft/GM sites, it would be acceptable. Once it becomes urban legend, people are just passing it around so the credibility of having an original or checkable source is diminished.

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