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Tuesday, 28 January 2014 09:14 Written by 

electronic wasteElectronic Waste

The news has recently featured several articles relating to the extreme amounts of e-waste we generate throughout the Western world, and also on the current disposal and recycle schemes available to companies and individuals (or lack thereof, or non-committal in other cases). Many of the reports focused on the obscene quantities of electronics goods containing precious and rare metals finding their way to African states where they are ‘recycled’ by individuals with no training, no safety standards who are often deployed by exploitative companies.

As Britain generates nearly 1.4 million tonnes of e-waste per year we must consider reasons for this surge in disposal, rather than the repair culture our grandparents cultivated. Outside of the sheer scale of production most technologies are subject to, two other aspects contribute: the copywriting of instruction manuals and the breakdown of the circular economy, two facets intrinsically linked.

Information has never been more abundant. It has never been easier to locate specialised, extremely contextual information relating to any number of subject areas, any number of technologies. But slowly and surely, a number of large electronics companies are copywriting their repair manuals, removing them from any online repositories and issuing threatening letters to anyone who dares to cross the line. Mass takedown orders are common place and it seems that due to the tiny size of many sites offering a repair manual service there is little choice but to comply and seek silence.

It wasn’t always like this. Even in my lifetime I have phoned companies and asked for direct assistance from the manufacturer in fixing their product over the phone, or have had additional information delivered to my location. The large electronic companies’ denial of repair manuals has a knock on effect on the economy. Nothing is held precious. Consumers are happy to throw their product in the bin. There is no consideration for mining and extraction processes, lengthy development and manufacturing processes as well as the sheer amount of man hours that go into electronics (and many other sectors) manufacturing. Without being able to repair our products, it compromises the further quality we can expect due to rising costs on preferred materials due to mass depletion. And of course, the horrible human toll it takes when unlicensed, unprotected individuals are exploited.

There are small recesses where repair shines through. IFixit is one of those rare oases, offering full repair manuals for a massive range of electronics products – and they are branching out into other areas including clothing and vehicles. They escape the mass takedown orders by purchasing the item in question, taking it apart and reassembling the product, providing images and extensive instructions.

Copywriting repair manuals help absolutely no-one. The large electronics manufacturers can perhaps delude themselves that it somehow protects their designs, their intellectual property, but in reality all it does is generate masses of toxic waste and reduce consumer faith in the longevity of their products. Perhaps, this is exactly what they want.

Image courtesy of: anankkml / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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