A second and less recognised answer to keep electronics in use for longer is the resources and energy utilised during their production. Last year, the Restart Project looked into the carbon footprint of small electronics from cradle to grave. We reviewed publicly available life cycle assessments conducted by manufacturers, academics, consultancy firms, and public bodies. Information was hard to find. In total we collected data on 1406 products. From these, CO2 equivalent data were extracted on 491 products (2). We found that, for many of the products, most of the global warming impact occurred before we even opened the box; the actual use of our products generates as little as 20% of the carbon emissions produced in their whole lifetimes. This means the best thing we can do to cut the climate impact of electronics is to keep those that we own for as long as possible – and buy fewer new products.
So why do more people not repair electronics?
Cost is consistently quoted as a barrier to repair for more than half of people surveyed (7). Spare parts and labour are expensive when compared with cheaper mass produced new products. Professional repair options are harder to find, whilst there are multiple barriers for home repair. Whether intentional or otherwise, electronics are rarely designed for repair. Hardware includes glued components, hidden screws and often requires unique tools for different models. Parts are bundled together so that minor faults require changing several parts. Official repair manuals are hard to source, as are spare parts. Software is also increasingly used to hinder repairs. Most connected products are not supported with security updates for long enough and are increasingly rendered prematurely obsolete. Part pairing is used to tie specific parts to software, ensuring that spare parts can only be sourced from the manufacturer, and must be individually paired to the device by that company. These software barriers to repair are becoming ever more commonplace, not to mention warranties voided, if repairs are carried out by independent shops.