Why Bother To Repair Stuff, Just Chuck It

14
2033

Should we all be trying to repair everything in order to save resources? Or should we be trying to save resources by only repairing those things where it saves resources to do so? The answer is, obviously, that second, but that then means that we’ve got to measure the resources being used properly. Something that the price system does for us very nicely – as long as we’re including externalities that it. And the time we spend doing the repairing.

Which is where these repair cafes and fairs fall down:

A vacuum cleaner, a hair straightener, a laptop, Christmas lights, an e-reader, a blender, a kettle, two bags, a pair of jeans, a remote-control helicopter, a spoon, a dining-room chair, a lamp and hair clippers. All broken.

It sounds like a pile of things that you’d stick in boxes and take to the tip. In fact, it’s a list of things mended in a single afternoon by British volunteers determined to get people to stop throwing stuff away.

This is the Reading Repair Cafe, part of a burgeoning international network aimed at confronting a world of stuff, of white goods littering dumps in west Africa and trash swilling through the oceans in huge gyres.

Well, OK, are we actually saving resources by doing this?

Today, the repairers will divert 24kg of waste from going to landfill and save 284kg of CO2. Some items can’t be fixed on the spot – notably a hunting horn split in two, which requires soldering with a blow torch – but very little needs to be thrown away.

Landfill costs £60 a tonne or so. So, they’ve saved £1.44 in costs there. CO2 should be at $80 a tonne, call that £17. So, generously, we’ve saved £20 in resources through this afternoon’s work. And what were the resources expended in making this saving? We’re not told how many people were doing the repairing, nor how many people hung around to wait for it to be done but it would be extraordinary if fewer than 20 hours of human time went into this.

In one manner this is, definitionally, economic. People like doing this – otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it – and thus this is an increase in human happiness, in utility, the very point of our having an economy in the first place. In another manner it ain’t economic at all. Valuing human time at £1 an hour or less? No, a waste of the one truly non-renewable resource we’ve got, lifespan.

Which gives us our answer – if you enjoy doing this then do it. But don’t think you’re making the world a richer place by doing it for the resources being expended are greater than those being saved. Other than that enjoyment it’s better simply to chuck the stuff.

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ian parkinson
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ian parkinson

The only caveat is where repair costs are artificially inflated. So you discover that your Miele washing machine has custom screws that limit your repair choices to err Miele at 3x the normal rate. Or your BMW has similar hardware to prevent anyone other than a BMW shop from fixing your car. Hmm, what are the odds that the EC does anything against those anti-competitive practices.

Spike
Member

The EC is dedicated to the proposition that no one be able to do anything new that threatens established businesses! Regarding cars, everything is now computerized; my local shop can only diagnose faults if the car is more than one year old; newer cars must be returned to the dealer. I used to re-solder my own computers and live for the next electronic swap meet. These days, even trying to save a few bucks on a refurbished phone has been a disaster in time and money. I buy new (except cars, see above). Those obsessed with their own effluent will… Read more »

Bloke in Cyprus
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Bloke in Cyprus

We paid £££££££££s for our Miele washing machine (and dryer) in the UK…

When it busted I found the ‘cure’ on the Interwebz and Miele here in Cyprus sold me the parts for just a few €uros…

But generally, I agree with the OP. I look at stuff that I’ve ‘saved’ and think, ” are you really ever going to get round to fixing that?” answer, “no” and chuck it away…

In most cases the new stuff is so much better than the old that you really wouldn’t want to be stuck with it.

Mrs. Bloke in Cyprus’s washing machine excepted obvs.

Josko
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Josko

Sorry if I am stating the obvious, but shouldn’t the resources that are required to produce a new functioning device be also factored into the calculation? And not only the resources that are expended on the repair? I mean, at the end of the day, you still need a functioning hair dryer.

BenS
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BenS

I guess if the repair shops start charging for their time, we’ll see how much people value the ecology 🙂

That said, I do have total sympathy for repairing stuff instead of ditching it and buying new.

“Making do” is a virtue that is rapidly going out of fashion.

Watchman
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Watchman

Is a necessity that people are putting a brave face on really a virtue? It always strikes me that this is one of those cases where virtue means ‘live with it because you have no choice.’

David
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David

People might enjoy doing this and so it could be a good idea for that reason.
Also they saved more than £20, the laptop might be worth £200.

bloke in spain
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bloke in spain

Yes, quite. Tim omitted the value of the repair in his calculations. Not inconsiderable. We’d al be throwing cars away rather than have a worn windscreen wiper replaced. I’ve a top of the range microwave sitting here. In perfect working order apart from a faulty plastic button releases the door latch. Said button not available from manufacturers.* It’s actually economically advantageous to me to buy a cheap 3D printer & scanner to make a replacement. I save about £30 & end up with a 3D printer & scanner for the next thing breaks. *Never,ever buy a M/W with a door… Read more »

Southerner
Guest

If it can’t be fixed with duct tape and WD40, it can’t be fixed. Once a year squirt some silicon spray into the door latch and twenty years later (like my LG) your microwave will still be working perfectly. But then I dare say someone will tell me that keeping duct tape, WD40, high heels for hammering and table knives for driving screws is uneconomical and when a light globe blows, it’s cheaper to sell your house.

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

It maeks sense to repair stuff when to repair stuff makes sense. A decision people can make for themselves. The price of landfill and carbon dioxide don’t come into it as they are both arbitrarily set and inapplicable at the point of repair. Also people don’t really need a snotty economist telling them, nor a green enthusiast.

Hallowed Be
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Hallowed Be

My washing machine packed up two days ago. I’ve worked out via you tube it’s a capacitor that needs to be replaced on the control board, but the repair itself would always be replacing the whole board at hundreds rather than tens. Still I’ve decided not to do it,, because get it wrong and burn Grenfell down again would be unforgiveable. The thrust of the article tim comments on is wake up every body we can fix stuff but the reality is that make do and mend skills tend only get developed out of necessity, the best being Cubans.

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

When we were posted back from Cyprus we were well over our allowance so I suggested that we sell the washing machine, which was at least 5 years old, as we could get a decent price in Cyprus and buy a new one as soon as we got back. My other motive was that I always skinned my knuckles badly when I prepared it for travel and then for use at the other end. Mrs BiND was having none of that as it was hers before we got married and she was attached to it (seriously). Ss we paid the… Read more »

Dave
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Dave

The repair meets are actually much more interesting economically than a simple analysis shows. Sure, people are doing it for a hobby rather than because it’s economically sensible. But look at the rest of it. People swap skills and tools that aren’t worth having for the amount only one person gets to use them.

Rhyds
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Rhyds

For me, it depends on two factors

1: if I repair xyz, what’s the likelihood something else expensive is going to go wrong in short order

And

2: Has technology moved on since xyz was buit in the first place.

For most electronic kit its option 2 that’s the clincher. Why spend a fortune fixing a hardware fault (e.g. fried motherboard) on an old laptop when you can buy a newer, more powerful one for less money.