U Fix It clinics keep electronics out of landfills

Repair it or replace it?

Most of us are faced with that choice at least a few times a year.

When an appliance, mobile phone or other technology stops working, we may not know how to fix it ourselves.

We may think that it is not worth paying someone else to fix it.

So, we throw it away and buy a new one.

Many of the companies prefer the “throw away model” because they can sell us a new one.

But there are a growing number of organizations and do-it-yourself advocates that are helping to demystify the repair job and reduce the amount of fixable things thrown away.

A couple of months ago my 2014 Macbook battery started to die.

The charges got shorter by the hour and the message “Replace battery NOW” was flashing.

A local Mac repair shop said it would cost them $150 to install a new battery and dispose of the old one.

That’s when I found an online company called iFixIt.

For $100 iFixit sold me a new battery and a couple of special little tools to open up the laptop.

A few days later the new tools and battery arrived in the mail. I took them out and in about 15 minutes, I took out my old battery and installed a new one.

Elizabeth Chamberlain, iFixit’s director of sustainability, said she hears stories like mine all the time.

“Batteries are consumables, they will go bad,” he said.

“Basically, they are used in all consumer electronic devices. But most of those things aren’t designed to make it as easy as it should be to do that kind of replacement. And I think manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping that information locked away so you go to the Apple store and use their authorized repair center.”

In addition to selling parts and tools, iFixit, a California-based company, offers thousands of free repair guides for everything from tractors to toasters.

Many of the guides are translated into up to 12 languages.

Chamberlain said battery replacement is one of the most common consumer requests, in part because Apple has long told the public that replacing ion batteries was dangerous.

The company claimed that rechargeable lithium-ion batteries could catch fire if handled by unauthorized mechanics.

In a 2021 report, the Federal Trade Commission released a report that found no evidence to support the industry claim that allowing individuals and unauthorized repair shops to replace batteries did not pose a safety risk, as long as have the person replacing the battery take simple safety precautions.

Scare tactics aside, many computer and technology companies go to great lengths to make their products difficult to repair.

While my MacBook battery came off easily, on some computers and cell phones, companies glue the batteries in place to make them much more difficult to remove.

The Environmental Protection Agency said that e-waste is the fastest growing segment of the US waste stream.

Danny Katz, the director of Colorado Public Interest Research Groupa nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that is part of a broad coalition of consumer and environmental groups, independent repair organizations and do-it-yourselfers promoting legislation called the “Right to Repair,” said, companies don’t want you to fix things.

“Increasingly, things are designed in a way that we can’t repair or fix them and we are forced to throw them out and buy new things, which is a scam on consumers and bad for our planet, too,” Katz said.

The idea of ​​Right to Repair, he says, is that you should be allowed to fix your stuff.

“Unfortunately, more and more of the things we buy have these digital components. So even if you had the screwdriver you need to unscrew the part and even if you could figure out how to fix what’s broken, you don’t have access to the software to tell the computer it’s fixed, so often it still doesn’t. . I don’t work.

Earlier this year, CoPIRG worked with the disability community to pass state legislation making it easier to repair wheelchairs and wheelchair batteries.

According to Katz, wheelchair manufacturers fought that bill.

“Wheelchair users didn’t have access to the things they needed to fix their wheelchairs, and that was having a huge impact on the community,” Katz said.

“So we’re happy to have passed that bill this year. The governor signed it. It will require wheelchair manufacturers to provide access to parts, tools and manuals.”

Colorado Wheelchair Repair Law it comes into force on January 1 and is one of the first in the country.

The New York State Legislature passed a much broader Right to Repair bill earlier this year that is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

    The Boulder UFixit clinic meets in Building 61, the makerspace at the main branch of the Boulder Public Library.

The Boulder UFixit clinic meets in Building 61, the makerspace at the main branch of the Boulder Public Library.

On a recent Sunday afternoon at the Boulder Main Library, about a dozen people crowded around workbenches in Building 61, the library’s makerspace.

In it Boulder UFixit ClinicVolunteer trainers help people learn how to repair a wide range of household and electronic items.

Sylvan Hyoun, a retired engineer, was helping to repair a noisy fan.

The retired engineer said he enjoys volunteering at the clinics and helping people become more confident in attempting their own repairs.

“We tried different things,” he said.

“We started with oil first, putting a little bit of oil here in the middle and that worked a little better. Then we took everything apart and cleaned the inside of the bearing that looked dusty.”

Erin Brennan, who brought her fan to the clinic, said she learned a lot.

“They were training me to open up, remove screws, so I appreciate that,” he said.

“I’ve never seen the inside of a small engine like that.”

At another table, someone is taking apart a record player and stereo speakers.

Others have cell phones, electric lawn mowers, and a coffee maker.

Clinic volunteers say they see all kinds of kitchen appliances, inkjet printers and lots of lamps.

Wayne Seltzer founded the Boulder UFixit Clinic about ten years ago, in partnership with Ecocycle, a local non-profit organization.

“We always ask our participants three questions: What was this like when it was running? What happened when it broke? And what have you done since then? he said.

There are now over a thousand people on your UFixIT mailing list.

Like volunteer trainer Sylvan Hayoun, Seltzer is also an engineer.

He grew up in a frugal immigrant family, learning how to fix things from his father. Seltzer loves to pass on that knowledge.

“The thing that makes me most proud is when people come here saying they don’t know how to use a screwdriver and eventually learn enough skills to want to volunteer as a trainer,” he said.

“That is awesome”.

Whether you want to save money, reduce waste, or simply learn more about how devices work, the Boulder UFixIt is there to help you exercise your right to redress.

this story of KGNU was shared with KSUT via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico, including Aspen Public Radio.

Copyright 2022 Aspen Public Radio. To see more, visit Aspen Public Radio .

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