Circular Economy Goes Local: Repair Roundup Week of July 25
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Circular Economy Goes Local: Repair Roundup Week of July 25

While initiatives by big companies and policy changes grab headlines, local initiatives are proving to be vital for communities to reclaim a culture of repair and reuse.

The Big News: 

We often get caught up in the big announcements in the news about repair coming from large companies and governments. While important, that focus sometimes means we can lose sight of the small-scale and local work that is being done day in and day out by individuals all over the globe. Local and community-based solutions on the other hand allow individuals to exercise their agency over the things they own while learning skills in repair—which have often been eroded over time. 

The quintessential example is the repair café—but there are many other forms in which community-based repair and reuse are taking shape. Localized initiatives contribute to a culture of repair while simultaneously fostering community, and they’re happening all over the globe. There is no doubt that big political and economic changes need to happen to democratize repair, but there is also so much to learn from the people promoting repair within their blocks, neighborhoods, towns and cities.

One young person opens a gaming controller with a screwdriver while another watches on
Two young people troubleshoot a game controller at a repair cafe at iFixit HQ.

Community-Based Repair > Transactional Repair

An uplifting story about a repair exchange platform from the Netherlands is showing that not every repair needs to be transactional. The guilder is a platform where someone comes looking for a repair, and in exchange they offer a service they can offer to the person who performs the repair. Some exchanges that have already taken place include:

  • Fix a vacuum in exchange for a haircut
  • Welding a chair back together in exchange for fixing a pair of jeans
  • Fix a torn chair in exchange for a bicycle’s gear shift
  • Fixing a dishwasher in exchange for a ︎︎︎garden umbrella

The platform “aims to lower the threshold to repair through non-monetary exchanges, pushing against the notion that repair is not worth it compared to the price of replacement.” By subverting the idea that everything needs a dollar sign attached to it, the founder hopes that repair will become more based on local relationships than extracting profit.

Like IKEA, but Thriftier

The city of Berlin has a different approach. By diverting usable items like furniture from its dumps, the city is able to sell what would otherwise be trash in their city-run furniture store—which deals exclusively in reclaimed items. Not only does it reduce waste but the store is actually turning a profit. According to Bloomberg they also host a “bi-monthly ‘repair cafe‘ where people can get assistance and advice on how to fix faulty household items.” So if you get a discount on a kitchen table that needs some work done, you learn how to fix it there too.

Power Tool-Friendly Libraries

Tools lined up to rent at the Parkdale tool library
Tools lined up to rent at the Parkdale tool library in Toronto. Image via Flickr, CC 2.0.

Tool libraries are fairly self-explanatory—you pay for a membership and get access to tools, which helps you avoid needing to spend outrageous amounts of money on tools that often collect dust in your basement. Charlottesville, Virginia opened their repair library earlier this year. Ammon Shepherd, who is the library’s co-secretary, explained: “I have often been frustrated at purchasing a tool that I’ll need only once, or so infrequently as to not justify the cost, or at the least cause some grumbling,’ he said. ‘With a resource like the Tool Library, finding a tool for a one-off project is a much more pleasant experience.”

Having a collective library of tools is proving to be an efficient system. By pooling resources, community members can spend less money on repairs while learning how to use the tools from the educational opportunities that libraries often run. Sound interesting? You can see if there’s a tool library near you.

Local Repair Proves to Be Powerful

Sweeping and large-scale action matters, but the “small” work of tool libraries and exchange networks cascade into something much bigger. Reclaiming repair is more than just having parts to fix your phone or vacuum, it’s a practice that can reinforce relationships and build community—and there’s no substitute for the human connection that local initiatives facilitate.

Other News:

Sponge Job Repair Rant: Citing Danger of ‘Ink Spills, Epson Uses Software to Disable Working Printers

Consumer printer maker Epson is hard coding an “end of life” into the software that runs some of its popular inkjet printers, citing the danger of “property damage” from spilled ink as a justification. Epson L-series printers are programmed to stop working and display a message saying a part has reached the “end of its service life.”

The part in question is the ink pad, a “porous sponge that collects, distributes, and…contain(s) the ink that is not used on printed pages.” Over time, these pads wear out—though, as Epson explains, generally not “before the printer is replaced for other reasons.” The limit appears to affect Epson’s L360 model printer as well as the Epson L130, L220, L310, and L365, though other models may also be subject to the hard-coded limit.

Device Page

Epson Printer

Repair and disassembly guides for Epson printer.The company was founded in 1942 as Daiwa Kogyo, Ltd., but merged with another company in 1959 to create Suwa Seikosha Co., Ltd.

View Device

Rather than sense ink pad saturation levels, Epson appears to rely on an internal counter that keeps track of printed pages and determines when to disable the printer—regardless of whether the printer was functioning normally at the time. Epson’s website urges customers to replace the entire printer once the error appears, rather than simply replace the ink-soaked sponge, though a utility does allow customers who use the Windows operating system (sorry Mac users!) to temporarily reset the counter.

Mark Tavern, a lecturer at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, received more than 4,500 “likes” and 800 retweets when he wrote about his wife’s Epson encountering the error, with leading consumer rights advocates weighing in on the practice.

Repair advocates say that Epson’s practice may qualify as a ‘deceptive trade practice’ if the company does not clearly disclose to customers that the printer is programmed to stop working at a pre-determined time. “I think there’s a good case that this would be seen as an unfair or deceptive trade practice under both the FTC Act and state-level consumer protection statutes,” said Aaron Perzanowski, a professor at University of Michigan School of Law and author of the book Right to Repair.  Regardless, Epson’s self-bricking printers are “a great example of ‘you think you bought a product, but you really rented a service,’” wrote Jonathan Zittrain a professor of International Law at Harvard University.

📚 Why None of My Books Are Available on Audible: And Why Amazon Owes Me $3,218.55 (Pluralistic)

Today, Audible dominates the audiobook market. In some verticals, their market share is over 90 percent. And Audible will not let authors or publishers opt out of DRM. If you want to publish an audiobook with Audible, you must let them add their DRM to it. That means that every time one of your readers buys one of your books, they’re locking themselves further into Audible. If you sell a million bucks’ worth of audiobooks on Audible, that’s a million bucks your readers have to forfeit to follow you to a rival platform.

As a rightsholder, I can’t authorize my users to strip off Audible’s DRM and switch to a competitor. I can’t even find out which of my readers bought my books from Audible and send them a download code for a free MP3. Even when I invest tens of thousands of dollars of my own money to hire professional narrators to record my audiobooks, if I sell them on Audible, they get the final say in how my readers use the product I paid to create. If I provide my readers with a tool to unwrap Audible’s DRM from my copyrighted books, I become a copyright infringer. I violate Section 1201 of the DMCA, and I can go to prison for five years and face a $500,000 fine—for a first offense. 

The Rise of Micro-Subscriptions (Protocol)

If it feels like you’re suddenly being charged for everything in your life, it’s because you are. And more often than not, that line item on your credit card statement is a monthly charge.

Subscriptions are everywhere. Dinners, razors, video games, electric scooters, workout apparel: Almost everything can now be bought under a monthly payment model. And, by-and-large, interest in the subscription economy shows no signs of slowing down…But now we’re onto the next chapter: Welcome to the age of micro-subscriptions, Protocol writes. That age includes a shift from monthly subscriptions to consumption-based pricing and free video games that make their creators money with in-game purchases and upgrades. Also: the now-infamous BMW $18/month seat warmer subscriptions that we wrote about last week and that the CBC has also written about.

Still, there are indicators of increasing consumer animosity and evidence that companies may be testing the boundaries of the subscription business model.

Google Pixel Gets Good Repair Scores, but Quality an Issue (Phone Arena)

Google’s feisty $450 midranger—the new Pixel 6a—has undergone the teardown treatment before it has even been released to the public as the launch is scheduled for later this week. The indefatigable PBK disassembler used the weekend to tear into a Pixel 6a and gave it very good repairability score of 7/10, better than the 5.5/10 score that the Google Pixel 6 Pro got on account of its harder to pry off components like the battery unit.

Unfortunately, the teardown began with finding some debris in the brand new Google Pixel 6a box and some scratches on said plastic rear and camera lens bezel. Hopefully, such mishaps won’t be happening on a regular basis to early adopters, as it would once again indicate quality control omissions on part of the assembly partners that Google works with over its Pixel phones. 

A Tale of Two Blenders (impakter.net)

In the past couple of months, two of my blenders broke down, which means that I’m actively looking for a replacement. One of the blenders must have been 8 years old and used almost daily. The other one was used sporadically and just turned 2, so it was just about too late to return it, but perfectly in keeping with the obsolescence targets. 

I got agitated when the latter broke down because, unwillingly, in being forced to replace it, I found myself supporting a company that champions waste and doesn’t see pollution as a major issue in the current environmental crisis. My eco-minimalistic mindset and minimalistic lifestyle choices are in sharp contrast with business strategies that turn the simple act of buying into overbuying.

I rebel with all my senses against planned obsolescence, which has dominated people’s lives for way too long. The only winners in planned obsolescence are the corporations and the people who run them. As consumers, we keep spending money on products that shouldn’t be replaced every season like clothing or shoes, or every few years like appliances and electronics.

Car Collision Data Is Being Collected and Resold to Third Parties??! (Repair Driven News)

If you’re an auto repair shop owner, your customer’s personally identifiable information (PII) data—everything from full name, home address, email, cell number, VIN, insurance carrier, and more—could be compromised at the hands of a collision industry data aggregation company that’s providing or selling the data to at least one third-party company to sell the information back to the industry.

Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) Executive Director Aaron Schulenburg shared details of his discovery with attendees of the July 21 Collision Industry Conference (CIC) meeting in Pittsburgh as part of the Data Access, Privacy & Security Committee’s presentation.

Schulenburg said the company told him, “Through our data aggregation partners and processes we collect 86% of all quoted collision repairs in North America whether the quote is taken through a body shop or an insurance carrier. In other words, when a consumer takes their car in for a repair—whether if it’s an insurance carrier or not—that data goes into our system within 24 hours.”