A new mobile phone each year, a vacuum cleaner, a thinner laptop – our consumption of electronics is growing and together with it, the amount of electronic waste that we create each year. New appliances can benefit from some recyclable parts, another small part is materially valuable, but most of it ends up in landfill or in an improvised workshop in a developing country. Recycling capacities do not keep up with our consumption and recycling is also difficult due to the way the appliances are designed, as most do not allow the appliance to be easily disassembled.
Every year we dispose of around 50 million tons of electronics around the world, which weighs the same as (approximately) 125,000 jumbo jet aircraft. Everyday 416,000 mobile phones and 142,000 computers end up in waste worldwide. Such figures are presented by Daniela Laluhová from Repairably as an introduction to the topic of the necessary repairability of appliances.
“We are creating the greatest burden, so we should not throw them away ideally,” she says. These numbers are so high even though we don’t throw out the refrigerator every week, but electronics weigh much more compared to such PET bottles. They also contain various types of metal and other heavy parts.
In addition, the recycling of electrical waste is also fueling the actual consumption. Who wouldn’t feel better buying a new iPhone by looking at the ‘Liam recycling robot’ story, which can dismantle one iPhone in 11 seconds? In this way, ‘Liam’ can disassemble 1.2 million phones per year. By just that, according to Forbes magazine, Apple will sell more than 200 million new smartphones per year.
Recycling doesn’t catch up
Other brands do not even have these inefficient Liams. Their unwanted electronics travel, at best, to certified workshops where they are broken down by type of material and sent for recycling. However, this process only applies to a small fraction of the global amount of electrical waste.
According to UN statistics, only 20% of the waste generated in the world is recycled, in Slovakia is it 50% according to Eurostat. The rest will end up in landfills or in home workshops in developing world countries where they threaten local people and pollute the environment. For example, they get gold from the appliances by bathing them in hydrochloric acid, which pollutes the water, threatens their health, and the unused rest of the appliance ends up in landfill anyway.
In Slovakia, unwanted electrical appliances are either exchanged with the shop when buying new ones using the systems piece for piece (so-called back-collection), or in the case of smaller appliances, all stores selling such goods should accept them, or they can be taken to specialized containers, which are located in large shops or at local administration offices or in the collection yard.
However, in all the waste analyzes where we have participated so far, we have also found electrical waste among ordinary household waste. Thus, the rate of recycling is further reduced by people who separate incorrectly and do not take their waste to a place specially designed for it.
Some people may imagine that specialised companies will dismantle their appliance into parts and then recycle them but the reality is often difficult to trace. “Europe is committed not to drive waste out, but it often happens that our electronic waste, whose recycling we already pay for a recycling fee, gets somehow in the shipping container to third world countries. These containers are labeled as if they have still usable products, but there is often only one of many functional in reality, ”says Laluhová.
Needless to say, there is a lot of energy to recycle. “We consume the least energy when we take care of the product and keep it,” says Laluhová. “At the same time, we save a considerable amount of energy needed to produce a new product,” she adds.
Previously, things were made to last – our grandparents had the same appliance their whole life, which was often inherited by our parents. Today, in electronic stores they usually offer an extended warranty of 5 years at an additional cost, because the risk that an expensive appliance will go wrong is higher than it once was. “Things are often designed not to be repaired, so new ones have to be bought,” says Laluhová.
According to her, our grandparents model does not fit into the economic model in which our society functions. “Manufacturers have shortened the life of products to sell more and more to make a profit.”
Many people would also be able to fix their appliances, but they find that the spare parts either do not exist or are (almost) as expensive as a new product. According to Laluhová, repairing products instead of buying new ones could, at least in part, compensate for this artificially generated profit from the production of always new things, that will sooner or later become waste. “Manufacturers can offer services, they can repair products themselves,” she explains.
The problem is also the setting of the tax system. “He motivates us as a company to buy a new car every four years because we can decrease our taxes. We are so motivated to buy new things all the time, even if the ones we have are still working and if anything happens to them, they can be repaired. ”
A short life of appliances means a lot of shredded parts
The average life expectancy of a mobile phone is just 21 months, which is less than its warranty period. So we get rid of the devices for which we might not even need to pay to get repaired. “The real life expectancy of a smartphone is, of course, somewhere else, and many of us have a full drawer of old and often still functional phones,” says Laluhová.
Let’s say that reparability would double the life of products, for example, from two to four years. This would mean that, on average, 2 times fewer products are thrown out every year, and 2 times less new ones must be produced to replace those discarded ones. Using such a calculation for all WEEE products, we would save around 25 million tonnes of waste and raw material resources annually.
An interesting statistic was given by The Restart project, which recalculated that if every cell phone sold this year was used only a third longer, we would avoid carbon emissions equivalent to Ireland’s annual emissions in a few years. The mathematics behind it is relatively simple. If the product consists of 30 parts, one of which goes wrong, I only need 1 new part to replace it, and I can continue to use the 29 remaining parts.
It should be obvious, but it is not. Not all products can be repaired and not every manufacturer guarantees that they have spare parts available. Therefore, at Repairably, they decided not to deal with the waste when it was already created, but to help manufacturers design products so that they could be repaired and the waste avoided or only produced after years of use.
“If an appliance is designed to be repairable, not only does it not end up as waste, it also gets a chance of another life. As a result, second-hand markets can be developed where such products retain higher value and reliability for the next owner. Also, services can be developed through repair, such as small service and repair social enterprises, and thus the local economy, ”says Laluhová.
Repairably offers manufacturing companies certification of repairability for their products. “We look at the problem of repairability comprehensively and ensure the practicality of repairing the product. The product that goes through our testing gets a certificate and the consumer knows that he can easily and affordably repair it. It is a systemic change that solves the problem before it is created, ”says Laluhová.
In order for a product to be certified, it must meet requirements regarding component prices, their availability, availability of tools, repair manuals, software and, of course, access to information. All certified products are listed on their website with a repair manual, a list of tools and components that the consumer can also order.
“We want the repair to be the first choice, to make it as easy as possible. It is a long way to go, it is important to change our societies habits and to literally ask for a repair. I am not only reffering myself to the consumers, but at all levels including the legal level, ”says Laluhová.
The world wants the right to repair
Repairably is not the world’s first organization oriented to repairability. Repair is picking up worldwide. In Europe and the US, there is a fight for right-to-repair, people are protesting at the gates of the European Commission, Apple is being fined, France is issuing a law against planned obsolescence. There are various organizations that deal with reparability from a variety of angles, such as Restarters Barcelona, Restart Project, iFixit, Ecos, Rreuse, and the Let’s Go Czech Republic.
“In June last year, we took part in a meeting of the European Commission’s Joint Research Center, where a document on” Repairability Scoring System” was addressed, requiring the products to indicate its repairability in the close future. In addition, repairability, along with upgradeability and durability, has been included in the newest edition of the Ecodesign package. This standard will enter into force in April 2021, making it the first legislative guideline for reparability, ”says Laluhová.
If we repaired the appliances more, we would save energy, raw materials and CO2 emissions. PHOTO – Repairably Archive
In Slovakia, we are also beginning to realise that the complexity of repair is an obstacle. In community centers, various repair workshops are organized, for example in Trnava (Little Berlin) in Bratislava (community living room Bystro, Repair cafe in the Old Market Hall). The circular economy, which also includes repairability, is being intensively developed by INCIEN. “We are in touch with these European and Slovak organizations. Repairably also originated in Slovakia, but of course it will achieve the greatest effect when certification becomes international and common, ”concludes Laluhová.
Original article published on ciernalabut.sk, written by Kristina Hudekova, read here
Note: the article has been shortened because of the geographical irrelevance of the last paragraph.