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Evonet

Cambridge
CB24 8TX, UK.

A Shameful Admission

14/04/2018

I have a shameful admission to make:  I sometimes take things to the dump that still work!  Usually, these are electrical or electronic devices – kitchen appliances, radios, computers.  How does this come about? 

What usually happens is that someone gives me a better one as a present.  It has more whizzy features, and does all kinds of clever things that the old one couldn’t do.  I switch to the new one, show off the clever new features to my friends, the family loves it, and everyone’s happy.  I put the old one in a cupboard, in case the new one ever breaks, or one of my children needs one of these for setting up home.  Does this sound familiar?

After a couple of years, I think I could really do with the cupboard space.  I haven’t needed that old thing so far, and I’m probably not likely to, so why not sell it, and make some money?  Well, I take the time to take some pictures, write a description and put it on eBay, and even though I start it at 99p, it doesn’t sell.  Remembering how it was a really faithful servant for many years before the new one came along, I am convinced that it will be really valuable to someone.  I take it to a car boot sale.  I’d be willing to take almost any offer, but it doesn’t go.  Undaunted, I put it on Freecycle.  Yes, finally someone says they’d like it for free, and I arrange to be in, but when it comes to it, they don’t turn up, and I’m still stuck with it.  Finally, in desperation and as I’m going to the dump anyway, I take it with me.  I try not to think too much about the environment.

According to UK Government figures, last year we produced 525,000 tonnes of so-called eWaste.   Yes, we are developing technology to extract raw materials from this, notably precious metals, but this process is crude and inefficient, and there are many, many materials that are not valuable enough to recover, and end up in landfill.   We also export our old technology to the Developing World.  This gives us a warm feeling that we’re doing some good and benefiting those less fortunate than ourselves, but all-too-often, the reality is much less attractive. (Search for ‘Agbogbloshie’ on the web, to see what I mean.) The average usable lifetime of an electrical or electronic product bought in the market in Ghana is only about six months, before it ends up in a dump.

At a personal level, what can we do about this?  A simple way to reduce eWaste is to increase the lifetime of the product.  If something we rely on breaks, it’s often simplest (and sadly, cheapest) to buy a new one, and throw the old one away.  However, with only a very little more effort, we can get the old one repaired.   After all, we don’t really need the hassle of learning how to use the fancy features of the latest model.  Nor should we simply let ourselves be seduced by the advertising, the newness or the glossy packaging.

There used to be lots of repair shops and service centres where we could get things fixed, but these are nowhere near as common as they were.  Fortunately, around Cambridge there is a new option – and it is cheaper than buying a new one – take it to a Repair Café!  At a Repair Café, people who enjoy repairing things will have a go at fixing your item for free – and you can even get a cup of coffee and a cake while you’re waiting!   Of the 1400+ Repair Cafés worldwide, there are now more than a dozen around Cambridge, and we recently hosted the largest in the world.  We look forward to seeing you there!  http://circularcambridge.org/repaircafe/


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