Gareth Huw Davies

Environment Blog

On line repair community to help people fix things

Creative Commons License photo credit: highwaycharlie

With online help, mending things need not be difficult

Shouldn’t we stop throwing away expensive consumer items that still work, or could be made to work? In the process we would reduce electronic waste, and the enormous pollution it causes, particularly in Third World countries where people are least equipped to deal with it.

American engineers have launched a company to provide interchangeable online advice on mending a wide range of electronic and other items.

The company is called iFixit,, described as a global repair community of people helping people fix things based on the wiki principle – “the free repair manual that you can edit”.

iFixit aims to attract users around the world, will will post guidance on mending things, through simple step-by-step instructions based on photographs..

“Collaborate with us to make things work longer” says the company, which claims thousands of people have successfully used their guides to repair their electronics. Its troubleshooting section — “diagnose what’s wrong with your device” — already includes 5387 questions. Readers are invited to contribute their own “device page”, a central repository of all troubleshooting and repair information on a specific device.

iFixit was started in 2003 by Luke Soules and Kyle Wiens while they were studying engineering at Cal Poly, in California. On the website they say: “We believe that the easier it is to fix something, the more people will do it. Repair is recycling. The best way to keep electronics out of landfills is to keep them working longer. Toxic electronic waste is a global problem that we are working to solve. Self repair saves you money and helps the environment.

Although the US and European countries have strict rules on the disposal of electronic items, so they are carefully disassembled, and separated out into different materials, which can then safely be used to make new products, much still ends up in Third World countries. Freelance recyclers make a sort of living, sifting through the dead electronics harvesting copper from wires and gold from electrical connectors.

In the process they have to deal with all kinds of nasty chemicals, including lead, mercury, and toxic fire-resistant chemicals. Thrown into landfill, they contaminate soil and leach into the water supply.

The United Nations Environmental program explains this process: “In many countries entire communities, including children, earn their livelihoods by scavenging metals, glass and plastic from old computers. To extract the small quantity of gold, capacitors are melted down over a charcoal fire. The plastic on the electrical cords is burnt in barrels to expose the copper wires. According to the Basel Action Network, all in all each computer yields about US $6 worth of material. Not very much when you consider that burning the plastic sends dioxin and other toxic gases into the air. And the large volume of worthless parts are dumped nearby, allowing the remaining heavy metals to contaminate the area.”

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