Jhe Lonely Parts Club sits in a plastic box right next to a few tired tea urns, a slick inkjet printer, and a line of “backup toasters.” The motley collection of tech is neatly stacked on the shelves of the Fixing Factory, where volunteers in bright orange aprons chat with people looking to give their gadgets a second life.
The small shop in Camden, north London, which officially opened last month after operating in ‘stealth mode’ without advertising since September, is at the forefront of a consumer revolution.
Although there has always been a market for antique restoration – given a recent boost by the hit BBC show The Repair Shop and its cameo by King Charles – and most of the urban high streets have a place that repairs expensive items such as cell phones, computers and appliances. , a new wave of repairers aims to salvage cheaper everyday items, such as radios and juicers.
Share & Repair in Bath, the Edinburgh Remakery and Re:Make Newport are just a few of the establishments springing up across the country working to keep electronic waste, or e-waste, out of landfills. In Wales, the government is helping to fund a scheme which aims to open repair cafes in every community.
“E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world and we need local solutions,” says Dermot Jones, who is Fixing Factory’s project manager for climate charity Possible and is also involved in short-lived repair events in Tooting. , south of London.
“We are facing a crisis in consumer goods…we have become accustomed over the last 40 years to buying something that cannot be fixed and we accept that as a kind of compromise so that it is cheap.”
Part of Fixing Factory’s plan is to show those bringing an item that they can easily fix it themselves. Jones says it’s often a myth that it takes longer and costs more to repair an item than to buy a new one. “We inspire and surprise people that some things are very easily fixable,” he says.
The venture, which is funded by the National Lottery’s Climate Action Fund and the Center for Climate Change and Social Transformations, has trained 11 young people and a number of other local volunteers. One of the joys is finding local experts, for example an 85-year-old former BBC engineer, who adapts his years of technological know-how to figuring out how to get in and fix modern gadgets.
Jones says the project had a 90% success rate fixing easier items such as toasters and other small kitchen appliances, but had less success with laptops – around 60%. He has just repaired a digital radio worth over £100 with a 10p part.
Bath’s Share & Repair claims to have repaired over 3,000 items in the five years since it opened, 60% of which are electrical or electronic items, primarily kettles, toasters, radios and lamps. The project also lends household items and organizes workshops on maintaining your bike, using a sewing machine or mending a sweater.
These outlets reflect a burgeoning global network of repair fans sharing their knowledge via YouTube videos, pop-up repair cafes and blogs, and a long UK tradition of repurposing old items that dates back to the directive of the World War II to “deal with and fix”.
Currys, the UK’s largest electrical goods retailer, expects the cost of living crisis to further accelerate the trend. It typically performs 860,000 repairs a year on laptops, TVs and phones, but expects a 10% increase this year as customer budgets come under pressure. Demand is also growing for its refurbished electrical appliances, which it is testing for the first time on its own website.
However, one of the biggest obstacles to the repair movement is the fact that much modern technology is not designed to be repaired. Leading online repair resource iFixit gives opinions on how fixable gadgets are – criticizing, for example, Apple for its AirPods, which are built in such a way that it’s not even possible to replace the battery.
Often parts are unavailable or expensive, and cases can be sealed or the screws to open them can only be accessed with oddly shaped tools not available at your local hardware store.
“It’s like an escape room inside out,” Jones says. “On an old record player you find arrows at the bottom of the case showing where to go in. Now these screws can be covered with a sticker or rubber feet or they can be closed with a system of plastic clips that can break in. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get in there.
The time and ingenuity required to come in and assess a broken toaster, for example, means that once labor costs are factored in, fixing it doesn’t make economic sense. The solution, for now, is to teach people to fix more things themselves and to use volunteers.
Jones says training young people could be vital for the future economy, as an army of experts could be needed after legislation is introduced that would make it easier and more cost-effective to solve problems.
Manufacturers of phones, tablets and laptops now face a legal obligation to make their products easier to repair and reuse, under an EU recycling scheme to extend the lifespan product life, with only 40% of electronic waste in the area expected to be recycled.
The UK Government’s version of these rules – the Right to Repair Regulations, which apply to products purchased from July 2021 but will not come into full force until next summer – only cover a limited selection of products. appliances, including washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, and televisions.
Under the regulations, manufacturers are required to produce spare parts for a minimum period of seven to ten years and to allow repairs using “commonly available tools”. They must also make service and repair information available to professional repairers.
UK regulations do not cover small items such as laptops, mobile phones, electric toothbrushes, headphones, phone chargers or toasters. Some manufacturers even complicate the supply of spare parts by selling them only as part of expensive kits rather than individually.
While campaigners say the regulations are too weak to really boost the market, they hope Britain’s growing passion for repair will outweigh government inaction and encourage the public to extend the life of their belongings.