Repair-Not-Replace: Good for Your Pocket and Good for the Planet

Recently the back bumper on my car sustained a few cracks as a result of a minor accident.  I took the car to the dealer’s garage. I was told that the bumper needed to be replaced at an extortionate cost. Not only that but also the car had to be taken to another city for that to be done.  I said I would think about it.

Returning home, I contacted a relative who owns a small garage locally. He said the bumper did not need to be replaced, it could be welded easily, costing about a fifth of the price quoted by the dealer.  The bumper is now repaired so skillfully that it is impossible to see where it had been welded. In fact, I joked that maybe he had replaced it.

This incident demonstrates the waste of energy and resources in our consumption habits of replacing rather than repairing. Carbon emissions are reduced by not having to manufacture another bumper, by not having to transport it from wherever it is manufactured, and by not having to transport the car elsewhere. There is also a reduction in the waste we produce which is becoming a problem in most countries.

So how do we change our consumption habits?  And here we do not need to reinvent the wheel; the Swedish government has done the thinking for us.  They intend to encourage a culture of repair rather than replacing by substantially reducing VAT on items that are repaired. Additionally, people can claim an income tax rebate equivalent to half the labour cost of repairs. The Swedish government hopes that such proposals will become law in January.

If more countries followed the Swedish example, think of the impact that would have globally on our CO2 emissions. Manufacturing goods is energy intensive. The website “Fix it-Don’t replace it” gives the example of the iphone6 where 85% of its lifecycle’s carbon footprint is from manufacturing it, not using it and another 3% from shipping it.

Climate change is with us already and such measures are needed as a matter of urgency. Such a proposal should not be a party political issue. Good quality jobs would be created in the country where the appliance is used. It would save the consumer money, and it is good for the environment.

Could we do something similar in Britain?  Does this have to be a political issue and parties have to have it in their manifestos before it could happen?  I don’t see where disagreement between parties could arise. I don’t see why in Britain a group of MPs from all the parties in parliament couldn’t get together to push for the Swedish proposal to be adopted.

I saved a packet by having the bumper repaired and not replaced, and who wouldn’t, given the opportunity. We all want to do our bit for the environment. We need our government to do its bit to help us do the right thing.

Adnan Al-Daini (PhD, Birmingham University, UK) is a retired University Engineering lecturer. He is a British citizen born in Iraq. He writes regularly on issues of social justice and the Middle East. Read other articles by Adnan.