From novelty toys to smartphones, when technology breaks, it often seems simpler to ditch it for a new model.
But now experts hope to challenge the status quo, launching a citizen science project to explore attitudes to repair and identify areas of the UK where the repair mindset is thriving.
The Big Repair Project follows campaigns to reduce the vast amounts of electrical and electronic waste produced each year, as well as the environmental impact of new products, by ensuring consumers can repair broken or damaged products – a rarity in the global consumer.
“It’s gotten to the point where most products have ended up coming to market with no real viable route to repair,” said Professor Mark Miodownik of University College London, who is leading the project.
Last year new laws were passed in the UK relating to the ‘right to repair’, which means that spare parts must now be made available for a number of household items, including machinery washing machines and televisions, and remain available for up to 10 years, depending on the part. .
Meanwhile, companies such as Microsoft and Apple have recently announced their own measures to allow consumers to fix their own technology.
“It’s clearly written on the wall that from an environmental point of view and from a market point of view, this is the direction to go,” Miodownik said.
But there has been a setback.
At a recent roundtable, organized by the Royal Academy of Engineering and chaired by Miodownik, some manufacturers argued that people could be harmed while attempting repairs, that this approach could make it more difficult to protect intellectual property and that stocking spare parts without trying to sell them is not necessarily in a company’s interest.
Some manufacturers also said they are waiting for customer demand to produce products with lower environmental impact.
Laura Selten, of home appliance maker Beko, said maintaining the use of products by increasing their longevity and repairability was one of the main ways to minimize the carbon footprint of products, adding that increasing the use of universal spare parts was an area the industry could work on. .
But, she added, one problem was that the cost of new devices was now closer to that of repairing old ones.
“Also, at the time of purchase, consumers tend to pay more attention to price, functionality and aesthetics of devices rather than device repairability,” she said. .
The citizen science project, Miodownik said, was partly about finding out if the public really cared about being able to fix the products.
As part of the Big Repair project, participants will be asked to complete a survey about different devices, gadgets and technologies, including the importance of being able to repair them and how long these items last.
The team will also collect partial data on postcodes to gather information on when items break, such as whether they are repaired and the cost of the process, allowing researchers to collect granular data on the existence of “repair hotspots” in the country.
“It’s interesting for us with the upgrade program to know if there’s a thriving repair economy in a certain place,” Miodownik said.
“It’s important to stress that we’re equally interested in the things that people can’t fix because it costs too much, and if it frustrates them,” he said.
The data could also provide the opportunity to test ideas about the impact of the approach.
“We have this assumption that reparation is not just an economic good, an environmental good, but also a social good,” Miodownik said.