To repair or to discard


What can the Western world learn from developing countries with regards to sustainability of personal electronic devices and general appliances?

One of the examples that made an impression on me following the second lecture was Massimo’s story about his defective Canon camera and the prohibitive cost of fixing it.

This got me thinking. I pondered why “fixing” remains a thriving business in developing countries as opposed to the West and other developed countries. Mobile phones, computers, televisions, fridges etc are easily repaired in remote parts of Africa.

Why is this practice not so prevalent in developed countries considering the ecological effect of  discarding defective appliances / items?.

Is this due to the ever growing  pressure of commercialism ?

Is high cost of  labour (as is precipitated by a very high cost of living) to blame ?.

Is such ecological effect well neutralised by recycling ?


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4 Responses to “To repair or to discard”

  1. sustainabilityandthecommons Says:

    Good point, worth of a research project. There is the question of built in obsolescence in many products. There is the question of types of designs that limit the scope for repair and increases its costs. There is the question of destruction of small scale cottage industries and repair shops in the West, due to “development”. There is the question of advertisement. Ultimately, all these factors have to do with profit.

  2. jeansykazadi Says:

    I agree this is a point worth of a research project. It is true that the repair cost of most domestic and personal appliances has become more expensive than their manufacture cost in term of labour input. This brings us once more to the concept of cost externalisation. These appliances are made at cheap cost in developing countries (China, India, Singapour…). Once broken in the West, it becomes obvious that their repair generates excessive cost due to western labour. Then, Africa comes in as a recycling land taking with her the recycling cost which represents indeed another externalisation cost. The defective appliances have become a business line of their own.There are people who are specialised in buying them and shipping them to Africa. Unfortunately for Africa, there is no monitoring of the environmental danger linked to the disposal of some such appliances (fridge gas, mobile phone battery…). And no one cares about this environmental cost which adds on the recycling cost.

  3. rlinton Says:

    Isn’t this a reflection of the capitalist model (and please correct me if I’m wrong because I am admittedly still getting my head around this)? Recycling and repairing do not fit into the model that requires us to fill our lives with more and more commodities, only replacement does.

    My question is, given the choice – the financial freedom – would people in developing countries continue to act as they do now, or would they fall into the pattern of a disposable society?

  4. joelgateretse Says:

    I invite you to turn around the question you raised on why the practice of “fixing” is not so prevalent in developed countries, to why it is so common in developing countries.

    Obviously, it’s cheaper but i believe the answer ultimately comes down to personal satisfaction(change in fashion, new technologies,etc). It’s also only one’s nature to always want the best product at the lowest price regardless of the known/unknown ecological consequences of discarding.

    In other words, if the developing countries had the same scenario as in the west (ie. buying new goods cheaper than repairing them), the same pattern would happen (which answers rlinton’s question). This is because the need to sustain the environment is outweighed by the need to directly satisfy self (by both consumers and suppliers) in people’s minds.

    What i mean is that the “growing pressure of commercialism” you mention in your post, is not the cause but a result of the very “need” to satisfy self. Businesses only provide products if there is a demand for them.

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