In the News

The Economics and Business of Repairs

Geoff Riley

3rd January 2017

Save for the booming business of bicycle, shoes and clothing repairs , why is it so hard to recycle or repair anything?

This article by Jony Bloom from the BBC makes the case that the majority of waste from products that are thrown away rather than recycled emanates from the design stage - hence the need to research and create products where sustainability is at the core of what the product offers.

Another reason for the long-term decline in the repairs industry is that globalisation and economies of scale have commoditised products to such an extent that it is simply cheaper to replace a worn out iron or malfunctioning kettle rather than pay for maintenance.

There is also a generational influence at work. For many people born before and just after the 1939-45 war, the idea of throwing products away was anathema - the social norm was to make and mend do.

Technology clearly pays a part - bicycles, shoes, suits and shirts have barely changed over the decades. They are easier to repair! So too does the availability of high street personal items repairs exemplified by the success of Timpsons.

Graham Watson adds:

Another interesting little plug for a Jonty Bloom piece on today's PM on Radio 4 highlighting the fact that the concept of built-in obsolescence means that many things today are manufactured in such a fashion as to break down and not be repairable, meaning that you have to buy newer version.

Think about it - do you every have your domestic appliances repaired these days? Or do you just buy a new one? (Interestingly, even an technically inept person such as me once repaired a dishwasher, buying the part online and copying a YouTube clip of the repair being effected!)

All environmental economists will know the mantra - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - this article suggests that this is increasingly difficult.

Geoff Riley

Geoff Riley FRSA has been teaching Economics for over thirty years. He has over twenty years experience as Head of Economics at leading schools. He writes extensively and is a contributor and presenter on CPD conferences in the UK and overseas.

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