Now is the time for a paradigm shift from throw-away culture to having more affection for our things. Where consumer power is about imagination to repair, rather than the ability to choose electronic products with premature obsolescence inbuilt.
There is a global crisis in waste. While there is a rising awareness of the damage caused by plastics in our oceans, highlighted by Blue Planet, and a much-needed focus on plastics we use in everyday life, the impact of e-waste comparably receives little attention. Electronics use flame-retardant plastic, among the hardest plastic to recycle, and chemicals harmful to us and our environment.
Prematurely obsolete electronics are omnipresent in our culture: phone contracts and battery life encourage us to replace our phones every two years; cheap electronics break quickly and are even viewed as disposable items. For most of us it has become accepted that lifetimes of electronics are short and it is cheaper to buy new than repair.
Barriers to repair are widespread, including knowledge and services available for individuals to repair, but also preventable barriers: some tractors and laptops are coded so that owners are unable to repair them; electronics look sleeker than ever but are glued together, preventing us from experiencing how they were put together and having the imagination to seek to repair them for ourselves.
The culture of premature obsolescence masquerades as choice, presenting a range of frequently updated and improved products to choose from, but ultimately leaves us powerless when it comes to making sustainable purchasing decisions and presents many barriers to developing the knowledge to repair items ourselves or seek help from others, leaving many of us feeling passive in our consumption options.
This problem is deeply embedded, who hasn’t had an electronic fail on them fast? Didn’t fridges use to last 45 years? Where do I go to fix my toaster?
The Restart Project is an organisation seeking to take practical steps to address this challenge and aims to create a nation of fixers, running parties where a volunteer fixer will try to fix your broken electronic item while teaching you how to do it yourself. The Restart Project network have been successful in preventing 11,963 kg of waste so far and are building their case for demanding better, more sustainable products.
I had the pleasure of meeting the members of this project and movement at their FixFest 2018 where the ideas and passion in the room for creating a better future, where electronics are repaired and obsolescence not built into electronics, was palpable. I was struck by the beauty of seeing things repaired, as someone with little technical expertise, I began to feel that the barriers to understanding how the products we use everyday are put together, how to take them apart and seek to repair them, was counter to human curiosity and creativity. This left me questioning how we become less passive as consumers. How can repair become the regular response to something breaking?
The energy behind the repair movement is growing. At FixFest, the Manchester Declaration was debated and drafted, which suggests a future where the conditions are created for repair to thrive and calls for barriers to repair to be addressed. On 20th October 2018 the second ever International Repair Day championed the Right to Repair - including the ability to access information and resources for repair and being able to demand products which are more repairable and durable. You can read more about the mobilisation of Right to Repair across Europe and sign the petition to support it.
The Restart Project is part of the Connected Communities Innovation Fund. We’re championing people power in government innovation, to find solutions to societal problems by working together in new ways, bringing together the collective intelligence of citizens and state. The challenge to repair and question our consumption habits demonstrates the importance of people and governments working collaboratively, for citizens to help reimagine better, sustainable futures and governments to support these futures, where people power is taken seriously.
Our individual actions, efforts to repair and available purchasing options, all have impact. Now is the time for reimagining our relationship to our things.
If you’ve got a great idea about how Nesta can take this work forward, or would like to let us know about an innovation happening in your area, then please comment below or email me at [email protected].