The Retro Revive

20170914_112947After getting removed from a parent’s basement, my friend showed me the bag of retro games and consoles her parents had returned to her after years of sitting dormant. In my excitement of holding an original Game Boy, I flipped the device on only to have nothing happen. Batteries must be dead, was my natural assumption. I opened the battery compartment to find the batteries had leaked and corrosion EVERYWHERE.

20170907_194159
Alkaline Battery Corrosion! The HORROR!

A younger me would have said, “Well, nothing we can do with it now. We’ll have to get rid of it.” And if time travel were a thing, I might go back and give my younger self a rough shake and an education on when to declare an electronic dead.

Battery “Acid”

My younger self was told to never touch exploded batteries; “it’s acid and it will burn”. Well, it was a half-truth from my parents to keep me from playing with something potentially dangerous. Alkaline batteries don’t leak acid, they actually leak a material that registers as a base on the pH scale: potassium hydroxide.  Potassium hydroxide is a conductive solution used in alkaline batteries that can be harmful to us if the proper precautions are not taken in handling it. It’s a corrosive and can cause an itchy/burning sensation if it comes into contact with your skin, eyes, or if inhaled, so be sure to use gloves, safety glasses, and work in a well-ventilated area. Also, I wish it could go without saying, but DO NOT INGEST and wash your hands and work area after any contact with it, gloves or no.

Cleaning Alkaline Corrosion

(Please make sure you’re working with alkaline batteries before performing this cleaning method.)

When cleaning alkaline battery leaks, you want to use an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to take on the base corrosion. What you don’t want to use are other base materials to clean it like baking soda, ammonia, or bleach, you may just make things worse this way. If you’re concerned that the acid may be too strong for cleaning your device, feel free to use a 50/50 mix (equal parts) of distilled water and vinegar or distilled water and lemon juice instead.

Use a Q-tip or small brush (soft bristle toothbrushes work just fine, just don’t use it for teeth cleaning afterwards) dipped in your chosen cleaning acid to scrub off/eat away the corrosion. Wipe with a dry cloth to remove any lingering corrosive particles. Repeat as necessary and let it dry completely before trying to put new batteries in. (Recycle old batteries.)

Some devices are caked in corrosion and require a more thorough cleaning which involves taking the device apart and soaking the contacts as I had to do for this poor Game Boy.

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Taking the Game Boy apart to remove the contacts
corrosion on contacts: before and after
Before and after soaking the contacts to remove the corrosion

 

What if I can’t save it?

Corrosion is the eventual fate of all metals, whether they are corroded irreparably depends on the type of metal and the type of corrosive as well as the amount of corrosive it’s been exposed to and how long it’s been there. I don’t know how long the batteries in this device have been leaking exactly, but the corrosion had eaten through enough of the top layers of metal to pockmark it. Fortunately, it was not enough to cause it to be irreparable for this project, a good scrub allowed us to get this device up and running again.

Should the damage to your device be irreparable and replacement parts unable to be found, recycling your device is the best course of action to take. Since Illinois state law has a ban on electronics like these in landfills, you can find local recyclers that can take your devices. Nintendo also offers repair of their products and take back programs which will allow you to send your old Nintendo devices (and sometimes other companies devices) in for recycling for free. Sony also offers a version of recycling as well.

What if it’s not Alkaline Battery Corrosion?

In regards to other types of corrosion, the cleaning methods vary. Different corrosives require different techniques. Isopropyl alcohol (90% and higher) is frequently used to clean/rinse motherboards as it dries quickly, but you could also soak/rinse a board (only the board, no power source or hard drive, etc.) in distilled or de-ionized water. It’s not the water itself that causes the corrosion, but the impurities and chemicals found in the water (like fluoride and chlorine). We don’t recommend submerging the boards although it can be done, we find it a bit risky and wasteful of resources, instead we use Qtips to apply cleaner/remove corrosion and soft bristle toothbrushes for some extra scrubbing power when needed.

 

Proposed Right to Repair Legislation in Illinois

Illinois is one of 12 states currently with proposed legislation that would support what is called the “right to repair”—that is, the right of consumers and smaller independent repair businesses to have access to instructions, parts, and tools necessary to repair electronics. If passed into law, this type of legislation would require manufacturers of electronic equipment to sell repair parts and release service information to consumers and independent repair shops.

For more information on the “right to repair” movement, see our previous posts, Introducing Right to Repair and its Roots in the Automotive Industry and Right to Repair and the Tech Industry. You should also check the web site of the Repair Association, previously the Digital Right to Repair Coalition, a group which advocates for the repair industry and legislation to protect consumers’ right to repair the devices they own, or to take them for repair to the repair shop of their choice (not just those controlled by the manufacturers). See their “Statement of Principles” at https://repair.org/association/. This page also includes a summary of the history of the right to repair movement.

In Illinois the proposed bill is called the Digital Fair Repair Act (HB 3030). See the full text of the bill on the Illinois General Assembly web site. According to the General Assembly site, that bill was referred to the House Rules Committee in March 2017 and no recent action has taken place. If you’re interested in contacting your elected officials to express your support for this bill, the Repair Association has made it easy for you, with a form that will help you contact legislators based on the zip code you enter–see https://illinois.repair.org/. Of course, the form can also assist you in determining your legislators if you care to contact them and oppose the bill.

Other states with similar proposed legislation include Nebraska, New York, Minnesota, Kansas, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Tennessee, North Carolina, Iowa, Missouri, and New Jersey. To learn more about proposed legislation in those states, see https://repair.org/stand-up/.

Incidentally, as in so many cases, the European Union is ahead of the US in terms of facilitating the repair of consumer products and thinking about designing products with repair in mind in the first place. On July 4, 2017 the European Parliament voted to approve a resolution calling on the European Commission, member countries and producers to take steps to improve repairability. While the resolution doesn’t place requirements into law, it does illustrate the desire of elected officials to address the issue of repair and design for repair in future laws and voluntary programs. See the 7/13/17 E-Scrap News article EU body takes aim at planned obsolescence in devices written by Jared Paben for further information.

drawing of wrench clasped in a fist enclosed in a circle
Right to Repair advocacy image from Repair.org

Get a Taste for Repair at the Taste of Champaign

Calling all University of Illinois students, faculty and staff, plus members of the broader Champaign-Urbana community! The Illini Gadget Garage will have a booth at this weekend’s Taste of Champaign at West Side Park in downtown Champaign, Friday, August 18 and Saturday, August 19. See the Facebook event for more details.

Stop by to learn more about the “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair we provide to campus and community members, and why we think it’s so important that you consider repairing the electronic devices and small appliances you own rather than immediately replacing them when there’s a problem! Set up an appointment to come into our workshop to work with us on your device, learn about volunteer and educational opportunities, hear about our employee engagement event offerings, and learn how you can support continued efforts. Also, if you’re the sort of person who thinks, “oh, I could never repair a device” or “repair is too complicated,” we’ll have some practice devices on hand along with tools, so you can sit down and get a feel for what it’s like to open something up and use the tools–all without the pressure of worrying that you might make things worse with your personal device. We’re pretty sure (from our own experiences) that once you get a taste of repair and tinkering, you’ll be hungry for more!

We’ll be at booth #27 in the “Community Corridor”–conveniently near the stage and beer tents so you can’t miss us! We’ll be there from the beginning of festivities each day until 9 PM each evening. See https://champaignparks.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/TASTE-CU-2017-NG-Tabloid-Insert-w_MAP-FINAL-7.31.17.pdf for a printable map. We hope to see you there!

image of 2017 Taste of Champaign booth layout in West Side Park

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.

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.

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!