Greenpeace and iFixit Assign Reparability Grades, Advocate for Durable Electronics

iFixit, the self-proclaimed “free repair guide for everything, written by everyone,” and Greenpeace, the environmental organization which has in the past published a “Guide to Greener Electronics,” have teamed up to assess how easy or difficult it may be to repair over 40 popular electronic devices. The assessments, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops launched between 2015 and 2017, can be found online at https://www.rethink-it.org/.

As electronic devices become smaller and sleeker, it’s sometimes the case that decisions are made at the industrial design stage, that, while making the product lighter and more aesthetically pleasing, can adversely impact the ability to repair it, or to dismantle it for recycling and material recovery at its end-of-life. Perhaps a battery will be glued in to avoid inclusion of a structure to hold the battery in place. Or perhaps the device will be unable to be opened without a special tool that most consumers or even many independent repair shops wouldn’t have. iFixit has been giving electronics “repairability scores” for years, based on criteria such as these, as well as considerations of how quickly a device can be dismantled, whether parts are modular and durable, whether components such as memory are upgradeable, whether repair manuals for the product are readily available, etc. Scores are on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most easily repaired item. The trend toward devices that are harder to repair or upgrade has resulted in a proliferation of electronic waste. When something goes wrong with a gadget these days, it’s not uncommon to simply replace it without giving repair a second thought.

The scores in the joint iFixit/Greenpeace list are also on a scale of 1-10, but are based on a simpler list of criteria: battery replaceability, display replaceability, whether special tools are needed, and whether spare parts are available. This latest round of repairability scores is all part of a joint campaign called “RethinkIT.” The campaign is focused on encouraging consumers to be more aware of how manufacturers contribute to waste generation through poor design and planned obsolescence–and how such design decisions can actually benefit the manufacturers. After all, they WANT to sell electronics, so if you’re more likely to replace something than repair it, that’s a form of success from their perspective. The “RethinkIT” campaign ties the list of repairability scores to a petition consumers can sign, expressing their desire for manufacturers to create products that are meant to last.

At the Illini Gadget Garage, consumers can observe first hand how design decisions impact the repairability of their personal devices, as they work with our staff and volunteers to troubleshoot and repair them. It can be an eye-opening experience, which may end up influencing future decisions on device purchases.

Read more about the RethinkIT campaign here: Greenpeace and iFixit slam smartphone companies over e-waste

Example of score from the iFixit/Greenpeace list, showing the Fairphone 2 with a 10 out of 10 possible points.

Note: Organizations, products, or links included here are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement by the Illini Gadget Garage, the University of Illinois, or associated departments and projects.

Tech Terror: “I don’t want to break it”

“I don’t want to break it.”

It’s a phrase we hear quite frequently here at the Gadget Garage as a preamble to attempting a repair and we completely understand that concern. Technology can be costly: in both its initial purchase price or in replacement parts; it can be valuable, holding important documents or all those digital copies of family photos you have stored on it; it can be complicated, trying to determine what caused your device to stop cooperating or to stop working all together; and it can even be dangerous at times, dealing with electrical components and batteries. But not wanting to break it doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try to fix it… for many of the same reasons. Technology is expensive to replace; some information is too valuable or troublesome to lose without trying to recover it; some complicated problems have very simple fixes; and a little bit of danger can be exciting now and then. So why don’t more of us take a deeper look into the electronic devices we use everyday when something goes unexpectedly wrong?

“I don’t want to break it.”

It’s a bit of hesitation.
A bit of trepidation.
A small dose of anxiety.
A little bit of fear.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Fear is a natural reaction to something new and unfamiliar.There is a wide range of fears which can prevent us from being more involved with our technology. In general, it’s a fear of making a bad problem worse, but fear can inhibit us from even trying as some of us don’t want to ask for help because we don’t want to appear ignorant or admit to not knowing how something works. Understanding technology is a learning process for everyone. The people who design circuit boards and smartphones and tablets they all started with a blank slate … and overtime they learned bit by bit… just as we learn any other skill: through patience, practice, and a bit of trial and error. So don’t tell yourself you can’t do it before you even try.

Where would you be today if you let something that scared you a little bit stop you? Would you know how to ride a bike or drive a car? Would you know how to play your favorite sport or instrument or how to cook safely in the kitchen? Would you have made friends or started relationships with people who were once complete strangers to you? Learning about technology and your devices and how to repair them isn’t radically different from these things, and at the rate which new technology appears nowadays, we’re all learners. Even the individuals who work with technology everyday sometimes struggle to figure out a new device or a new program feature, so try not to get disheartened by your failures.

You can do a great deal more than you realize, you just have to be willing to try.

Repair Elsewhere: Repair Cafés

We want to help spread awareness of like-minded projects that foster repair, reuse, consumer empowerment, and community building throughout the world. So we’re highlighting these “kindred spirits” in a series of posts on “Repair Elsewhere.” Look for other posts in the series within the “Repair” category in our post archives.

Repair Cafe logo, consisting of the words in stylized font alongside  two interlocking cogs

A Repair Café is a community meeting organized and hosted by local residents or organizations where members of the public work together with volunteer guides to repair a variety of household items, such as small appliances, clothing, electronics, bicycles, etc. The gatherings are typically free and held in public spaces, and the goals include not only waste reduction, but also sharing of knowledge, consumer empowerment, and building a stronger sense of community through cooperation. Sound familiar? It should, since the concept of Repair Cafés helped shape the idea for the Illini Gadget Garage (IGG)!

The notion of having some form of technology repair center on campus was proposed and revised among staff members at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) working on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) for many years, as I explain in my profile on the IGG site (I’m IGG adviser and ISTC sustainability specialist, Joy Scrogum, if we’ve not met. Thanks for reading our posts!) Despite many attempts, my colleagues and I weren’t able to obtain funding for those previous iterations of the idea. Eventually, I learned more about Repair Cafés, which don’t focus specifically on a particular type of consumer product. I thought, that’s what we’re really trying to start–a Repair Café for electronics! And that’s how I would describe it to people. (For those on the UI campus I’d also say the idea would be a bit like the Campus Bike Center, but for electronics–but we’ll talk about that project in a separate post.) This helped make the concept understandable, relatable, and appealing, and thankfully we ultimately received seed funding from the UI Student Sustainability Committee, as well as donations from HOBI International and iFixit to launch the project.

But I digress–back to the story of Repair Cafés. The concept was created by Martine Postma in Amsterdam in 2009. Martine was a former journalist and mother of two, who found herself considering the environment more after the birth of her second child.  In an excellent article on the concept from a 2012 edition of the New York Times (“An Effort to Bury a Throwaway Culture One Repair at a Time” by Sally McGrane), Postma explained that she was struck by observing the tendency to throwaway items that were not “that broken.” From the Times article: “I had the feeling I wanted to do something, not just write about it,” she said. But she was troubled by the question: “How do you try to do this as a normal person in your daily life?” She drew her own inspiration from a “a design exhibit about the creative, cultural and economic benefits of repairing and recycling,” and fixed her sights on helping people fix things as a practical approach to waste reduction.

That design exhibit was called “Platform 21=Repairing.” The organizers created a “Repair Manifesto” which encouraged people to “Stop Recycling. Start Repairing.” I personally wouldn’t go that far, but totally agree that recycling alone is not enough, and that repair and reuse are absolutely essential sustainability strategies. The exhibit was held in a former round chapel in Amsterdam that continued to serve as a workspace for the organization Platform 21 for a few years. See http://www.platform21.nl/page/133/en and http://www.platform21.nl/page/6026/en for more information on that project.

Smiling woman sitting at a work table covered with various tools. In the background, people work together on repairs.
Martine Postma, from the Repair Cafe web site.

Martine held the first Repair Café in Amsterdam in a theater foyer. The idea was taken to multiple other public venues, and ultimately inspired the formation of “spin offs” in countries around the world. According to the Times, funding is provided to the Repair Café Foundation through grants from the Dutch government, support from other foundations, and small donations, which pay for staffing, daily expenses, marketing, and a Repair Café bus. (Don’t laugh, but I’ve totally thought of having something like that for the Illini Gadget Garage–like a book mobile or mobile science center for fixing things! Someday perhaps. Anybody want to donate a vehicle??? 🙂 ) The project’s web site provides information on how you can set up your own Repair Café–for a small fee you receive a manual, the logo and marketing templates, and listing in their online directory, which can assist in connecting your project to like-minded projects near you. The Illini Gadget Garage chose not to become an “official” Repair Cafe because of our more narrow focus on electronics and small appliances, and also because we thought there would be greater value in associating our identity with the University of Illinois, where we launched and operate. In this part of the world, at this point in time, “Illini” is more immediately meaningful for people than “Repair Café.” Plus, since we’re trying to build a culture of repair and community spirit around repair and reuse right here in the home of the Illini, a more “customized” identity seemed right.

Visit the Repair Café web site to learn more about Repair Cafés worldwide, including several in the US. In Illinois, Repair Cafés exist in Oak Park and Chicago. If you’re on the UIUC campus, contact us to visit our physical workshop or arrange a “pop-up” clinic at your building. On campus pop-ups are currently free thanks to the support of our sponsors. If you’re off campus, we conduct community pop-ups with support of sponsors (consider a donation to help us spread the repair spirit), and for a fee we can bring a pop-up to your organization or business for a special employee engagement event. If you want to become a volunteer, we’d love to have people from any academic discipline, and staff and community members as well as students. Join us–repair is not only great for the planet and pocketbook, it’s also a lot of fun!

A pair of women sit at a sewing machine working together, while additional women can be seen on each side working with cloth and mending by hand.
Image from the Repair Cafe International Facebook page.

Battery Recycling Progress

The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) began collecting single-use batteries for recycling at the end of 2016, purchasing collection containers and recycling services with funds donated for outreach projects of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). (ISTC coordinates the Illini Gadget Garage project and the IGG is the main outreach effort of SEI. Got your acronym scorecard straight? Hurray!)

During the Spring 2017 semester, we filled and sent in 2 battery collection buckets via the Battery Solutions program. Battery Solutions sends us “confirmation of reclamation” letters that include statistics so we can keep track of the impact of this service. According to our confirmation of reclamation records, here’s a break down of the batteries we’ve helped keep out of landfill thus far:

Total weight of batteries recycled: 78 lbs.
Weight by chemistry: NiCad 1 lb.; NiMH 1 lb; Zinc Carbon/Alkaline 56 lbs.; Li-ion laptop/modem 15 lbs.; Alkaline/Zinc 4 lbs.; Lithium Primary 1 lb.

To everyone who has stopped by our workshop to drop off their batteries, great work! Every pound of material we can keep out of landfills and see processed for reclamation and potential reuse is a small victory, and small victories add up.

"Fight Waste, Illini!" written in white on a dark blue rectangular shape with curved corners

Beginning in Summer 2017, we’ll be accepting BOTH single-use batteries AND rechargeable batteries via the Call2Recycle All Battery Recycling ProgramConvenience is key to recycling program success, so we’re pleased to be able to collect both types of batteries in a single bin. Acceptable materials include: Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Small Sealed Lead Acid (SSLA/Pb), Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Nickel Zinc (Ni-Zn), Lithium Primary, Alkaline, Carbon Zinc, Button and Coin cell batteries, and all cellphones are accepted regardless of size, make, model, or age. Wet cell batteries are not accepted.

So bring by your single-use OR rechargeable batteries to our Oak St. workshop for recycling, or give them to staff at any of our campus or community pop-up repair clinics. We’ll make sure they get into the collection bin.

And if you appreciate this and other services offered by the Illini Gadget Garage, please consider making a small donation to SEI Various Donors Fund by visiting our online donation form. Just enter the amount you wish to donate, and you’ll be taken to a secure UI Foundation form that already has the proper fund name indicated. You’ll receive a tax letter from the UI Foundation, and we’ll acknowledge your gift on our Sponsors page. Thanks for helping us help our community to keep materials out of landfill!

Call2Recycle branded image listing all types of acceptable materials. Rechargeable and single-use batteries weighing 11 lbs. or less each of the following types: Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Small Sealed Lead Acid (SSLA/Pb), Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Nickel Zinc (Ni-Zn), Lithium Primary, Alkaline, Carbon Zinc, Button and Coin cell batteries, and all cellphones are accepted regardless of size, make, model, or age. Wet cell batteries are not accepted.

 

Illini Gadget Garage Announces Hours for Summer 2017 and Off-Campus Services

The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) is a collaborative repair center on the UIUC campus to assist students, staff and faculty with troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues for their personally owned electronic devices and small appliances. The project is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program as a waste reduction outreach project of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI).

Summer hours
The IGG has announced hours for Summer 2017. “Pop-up” repair clinics will be held at the Undergraduate Library Media Commons on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Open hours will be held at the IGG’s physical workshop (INHS Storage Building #3) on South Oak Street on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM to 2 PM and on Fridays from noon to 4 PM. A map is available for directions to the physical location: http://tinyurl.com/guv4n9z. Note that hours are subject to change, as staff are working to schedule more pop-up clinics in order to bring services to a wider audience, so check the project web site or Facebook page for announcements.

Image which lists the summer 2017 hours for the Illini Gadget Garage

Bring a pop-up repair clinic to your facility
Related to that spirit of expansion, the IGG is now offering off-campus pop-ups for companies and organizations that would like to bring “do-it-together” repair to their site as way to engage employees and patrons in product stewardship and sustainability. Staff will come to your location with the necessary tools, and they can arrange to have your audience fill out a diagnostic form in advance so they can research information on the devices and issues being faced ahead of time, making one-on-one interactions during the event more productive. Off-campus pop-ups are 2-4 hours long to allow sufficient time for troubleshooting, repairs, and any additional research. Note that IGG does not sell parts, but if it is determined that a part is needed, staff can assist individuals in determining the exact models of required parts and in researching ways to obtain the part. Staff can also help individuals identify local repair businesses that could help them address more complex damage or businesses that can accept items for proper recycling if they are beyond repair. IGG can help identify local businesses and/or online vendors for informational purposes only; the IGG does not endorse any external business and the ultimate decision of how/where to obtain parts or services is that of the consumer.

A pop-up repair clinic can provide a unique benefit to your staff, and be part of your organization’s sustainability efforts, by creating conversations around the impacts of product manufacture, design, and end-of-life management. Such events also provide empowerment and team building opportunities. If you have questions or are interested in scheduling a clinic at your facility, please contact Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist, for more information and pricing. Fees are charged to the host organization of a pop-up clinic to support staff members’ time both at the event and for preparation; however individuals that attend your event (e.g. employees and/or patrons) are not themselves charged for the assistance they receive. Off-campus pop-up clinics are not restricted to the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan area, but please be aware that additional fees may apply for travel.

View from above showing a student seated at a table working with tools to dismantle and repair a laptop

Support IGG outreach in your community or on the UIUC campus
Companies and corporations interested in sponsoring a pop-up repair clinic in their community or at a particular public space are encouraged to contact Joy Scrogum to discuss possibilities and to receive instructions for contributions to the appropriate UI Foundation fund. Additionally, any individual or company interested in supporting IGG’s efforts to provide product stewardship and waste reduction guidance to the UIUC community at no cost to students, faculty and staff may make online donations via the UI Foundation to the “SEI Various Donors Fund,” which supports the educational efforts of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative. You may indicate “Support the Illini Gadget Garage” in the “Special Instructions” section of the online donation form. We thank you and the project’s current sponsors for your support!