With an engineer’s mind, when Hillside Product Design Ltd (HPDL) Director Chris’ lawnmower recently stopped working, he decided to investigate the cause and attempt to repair it himself. He discovered that the toothed drive belt had slipped partially off the edge of a plastic gear and subsequently friction welded itself and the drive mechanism together, rendering it unfixable. Why would a belt drive mechanism not have a flanged gear to prevent this and more importantly why did it prove almost impossible to get to this problem and then discover there was no repair possible? He decided to totally disassemble the lawnmower and see exactly what was about to be thrown away.
An hour and a half later, he had hundreds of components laid out in separate piles as fixings, bearings, bushings, springs, metal pressings, metal tubework, vacuum formings, stitched fabric, electrical, packaging and three different sorts of plastics. Some could be sent for recycling.
Let’s be honest, not everyone would have the knowledge, nor be willing to spend the time separating out all the different materials for recycling. It is more likely that a broken lawnmower would be discarded at the council refuse centre and a replacement bought.
HPDL Director Chris said “when I was analyzing the design, I noticed that it should have been designed with a preventative method to stop the belt slipping off and melting.” Chris continued “Or, at least if the manufacturer stocked the replacement component, I would have been able to fix it. That would have been at least one lawnmower and potentially hundreds if not thousands more kept out of our rapidly filling up landfills”.
What if this ‘right to repair’ mindset was spread across consumers, designers and manufacturers?
As consumers we have a right to consume, but also a duty to be considerate consumers and effective recyclers. Supported by a recent EU legislation, we also have a right to repair. With repair cafes popping up, it’s as good a time as any to fix what’s broken instead of throwing it away and buying a replacement. Although, Chris’ lawnmower ended up in all the correct recycling bins others will almost certainly not end their life so well.
As designers, we have a responsibility to be mindful of the end of use of the products we design. Imagine if all designers had a mindset for designing not only for assembly, but also for disassembly. If they created products with repair in mind; considering the ease of disassembly, material separation for recycling and were intuitive to fix. Visualise having the ability to easily fix your expensive product yourself, perhaps you’ll even get enjoyment from it or learn something new. But to do that you’ll need the spare parts.
If manufacturers kept a stock of spare parts and were willing to give plenty of advice, it would support a consumers right to repair. Perhaps too, manufacturers could give the option for repairing products, for those who wouldn’t know where to start or needed a safety critical repair.
Here at Hillside Product Design, we consider all these elements throughout the product development process. If you have an idea you want to develop, we can assist with the above issues and together we can create great products that literally do not cost the earth. Because after all, is it really right that so much is thrown away?