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Repairing electronic appliances ‘no longer attractive’

Luxury household electronics are gaining popularity in tandem with the rise in disposable income. An absence of spare parts and consumers’ unwillingness to have faulty electrical and electronic products repaired is commonplace while luxury household electronics are gaining in popularity, the E-waste World Expo in Frankfurt has been told.

A strong call for the ‘right to repair’ was voiced at the event by Steffen Vangerow, founder of a German company of the same name which extends the useful lifecycle of various electronic products. ‘My grandfather repaired practically everything – how times have changed,’ he told delegates during a roundtable session on repair.

‘Did you know every person in Germany creates around 20kg of e-waste per year? Can you even remember the last product you repaired?’ A slight murmur filled the room, a response that is unsurprising, Vengerow concedes. ‘There are barely any spare parts these days, or their prices are excessive. Repair is simply not attractive anymore.’

‘Inspired by my father and grandfather, you may say I am a third generation repair fanatic,’ he adds with a laugh. ‘What I know is this: equipment is quite cheap nowadays, owing to big sales. Having your washing machine fixed, for example, can cost up to EUR 170. A recent consumer survey stated that 65% of people don’t want to invest that much money; they prefer to buy a new one.’

Sales of refurbished phones down due to pandemic-induced components shortage.

Using this logic, Vangerow argues that one in every three vacuum cleaners are thrown out. But faults could easily be resolved by switching components in a shop or by the consumer sending it back to the producer. ‘The reality is, this doesn’t happen on a large scale. People consider it too much hassle, and the industry doesn’t want to encourage repair as it doesn’t earn them any extra money.’

Meanwhile, a lockdown lifestyle during the coronavirus pandemic saw sales of fancy coffee machines and autonomous cleaning mobile robots reach new highs. The global vacuum cleaner industry exceeded EUR 10 billion last year and is expected to near EUR 11 billion by the end of this year. Sales for coffee machines topped EUR 6 billion and are heading towards EUR 8.5 billion by 2027.

‘From what I know, 70% of repair business want to grow their operations and repair more but don’t have enough employees,’ Vangerow says, pointing out craftsmen and women need an apprenticeship of four to six years to be able to fix everyday household appliances. ‘This is ridiculous. I mean, are we a doctor? If so, please pay us as much!’

Another big problem he identifies is negative attitudes to repair from big brands like Apple. ‘You’re only allowed to dismantle and fix devices if you are working for Apple, using proprietary tools. Last week, though, the company suddenly changed its mind. The questions are: Did they just lie to us for all those years? Are they really going to support tech geeks around the world? Or is this change of heart just a PR stunt?’

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