How do we put pressure on gadget makers to design their products for repair?
An excellent, practical post from the Guardian on how to start compelling tech companies, at an individual and communal level, to take their recycling responsibilities much more seriously. The five points of advice are below - but let us just pick out one the enterprises mentioned below who are helping this ethos develop.
The Edinburgh Remakery, based in Leith, is a retail and training space which helps people to "buy refurbished computers and second-hand furniture; donate second hand technology, textiles and furniture; learn to fix textiles, computers, mobile phones, and furnitur; and participate in skill-learning workshops and courses." Here's a feature article from the Scottish radical news service Common Space on their activities.
But from The Guardian, the to-do's:
Start with a mobile phone
You’ll probably have noticed that recycling your mobile phone is comparatively easy. Not only is there a huge resale market for these in developing countries but mobile phones also produce gold, silver and copper. In the UK, mobile phone companies have paid into funding schemes such as Envirophone.
Make the retailer take it back
Waste electrical and electronic equipment (adding up to the unfortunate acronym WEEE) is covered in EU law by the WEEE directive (who knows what Brexit may bring), designed to stop people doing the worst thing they can do with electronic waste: chuck it into landfill. When retailers sell you a new item they have to, by law, take in the equivalent old model and dispose of it according to regulation. It therefore becomes their responsibility.
I know from experience (a new vacuum cleaner) that this can mean a lot of standing around in a high street store while the manager denies all knowledge of the WEEE directive, but do persist. If the retailer or manufacturer uses Environcom as a contractor, this is good news – the Grantham-based company recently won a prestigious Circular economy award for reprocessing WEEE.
Stockpile your tech until e-waste recycling catches up
This might sound like the hoarder’s way out, but change is a-coming. At the moment 45% of UK waste electrical goods are recycled, with 80% of it going overseas. By 2020, at least 85% will have to be recycled, if targets are stuck to post-Brexit, so we could reasonably expect an acceleration in innovation. Blockchain technology – already being deployed in reverse vending machines to recover single-use plastic bottles – could be used in recovering and reprocessing e-waste for example. As e-waste contains about 40 to 50 times more precious metals than ores from mining, currently thought to be worth more than €48bn (£43bn), it seems bizarre we’re not recovering this properly.
Shun an upgrade and buy thoughtfully
The fewer phones you have, the fewer you need to recycle. Easy. Taking a slow approach to tech and eking out the lifespan of key gadgets is key to cutting your contribution to e-waste. When you must replace, use Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics. Tech behemoths score badly for scaling down repairability. Also look for tech that avoids problematic resources in the first place or uses sustainable materials – House of Marley headphones, for instance, use FSC certified wood. The Eco-vert label denotes low-energy manufacture and avoidance of toxic materials and appears on some printers and computers. Fairphone.com is the ethical market leader – it not only uses conflict-free minerals but is a modular product designed to be repairable.
Become part of the repair economy
While manufacturers such as Apple are increasingly designing products in ways that make them difficult for users to fix, according to Greenpeace, true heroes are stepping up. Remade in Edinburgh represents civil society rather than tech and creator Sophie Unwin has turned a former bank branch into a re-use and repair superstore. This social enterprise is where you can go to learn how to fix your own tech and extend its lifespan. It’s a similar idea to the many repair cafes, sometimes associated with the Transition town network.
To some, this will seem nicely mindful but unlikely to make a significant difference. I disagree. I think repair on a high street level, from person to person, can be a significant intervention and actually mirrors some of the entrepreneurial behaviours we have seen in Ghana and other informal reprocessing economies. The way to make a dent in digital castoffs is to get stuck in.