Is Your Kettle Killing the Planet?
We have a Super-kettle. It is an amazing piece of engineering and technology. My wife bought it a decade ago, long before she knew she would have a husband who thought kettles only had to boil water. This one has temperature control, a clock, and even a timer and delay system. It is Bugatti branded, yes, like the sports car, and it can even boil water in Italian. But last month it stopped working. Intermittently at first and then finally it just died. You can imagine the anguish, the grief that filled by beloved (the wife not the kettle).
After a week of boiling water in a saucepan, I finally got up the courage to ask her the bloke question: “Can I have a crack at fixing it?”. The look on her face said “No!” so I reasoned with her. “It doesn’t work, it’s going in the bin. What’s the worst that could happen?” Well, I found out. The worst that could happen is a bloke in Australia trying to fix a European made electronic device with all my years of experience in making things work by flicking a switch. I had no idea what I was doing, and Europe had no ‘right to repair laws’ when the kettle was made.
I am incompetent and inexperienced, and the kettle had been designed and specifically manufactured NOT to be fixed. There were six screws on the base. Two Philips head, two tech screws and two that seemed to require an oblong dodecahedron to undo. Can we fix it? No Bob the Builder, we can’t.
‘Right To Repair Laws’ are becoming a big thing. Yes, we live in a world that now requires laws to make companies allow you to fix the stuff you own. Not unlike those six screws, the right to repair things you own should be simple, but it is deliberately convoluted.
For a long time, manufacturers have cried product security and safety, not releasing repair data or service manuals. They have also quite deliberately made it difficult or even impossible to access damaged components without proprietary tools and knowledge, which they won’t share. The only place to get something fixed was at the manufacturer’s centre. This is what we call ‘Built in Obsolescence’. You hear it every time someone buys their next fridge, washing machine, phone, TV, etc, etc. See how long it takes before you hear the phrase “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” That’s because they don’t make them like they used to. Before, the streets were lined with TV and vacuum cleaner repair shops and washer fixer people. Now they have all gone the way of the dodo, and the cost is HUGE! When the European Union passed new Right to Repair legislation a couple of months ago, they estimated it will save, are you ready for this; $A288 BILLION, over just 15 years. To say nothing of the landfill avoided.
If we can repair it, we can also recondition it and sell it second hand. A new life for old stuff that avoids the tons of dumped goods the planet is currently groaning under.
So it can be done. Here in Australia, it is now law that companies provide diagnostic data and service manuals to everyone. But only since 2021. So, the habit is still strong. If it’s busted, we chuck it. Unfortunately, that attitude is going to drown us in waste and avoidable expense. The battle is on-going, and we who use things should be keenly watching to see it change; and then cracking out the screwdriver to try and fix that broken down kettle because, what’s the worst that could happen?
Post script: For my kettle repairing, the second worst thing happened. When I couldn’t get the stupid screws off, I just filled the thing with vinegar and boiled it to clean all the super you-beaut sensors. And it WORKED! The kettle continues to busy itself making our Italian boiled water. My wife was devastated when I told her. She had already ordered a brand new one online and it was on its way to us. It is still in its box in the cupboard. We do not speak of it.
Dr. Pete Court lectures in creative writing and communication at Tabor College. He joins Aiden in the Arvo on Wednesday to talk science and is a novelist and writer.
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