Week 4 | Some Things We Throw Away

I am Late! Forgive me, I have been trying to move house!

Week 4 work saw me starting to go back through my bookshelf, and I found this book: The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites. The starting point of the book is that artist Thomas Thwaites tries to make a toaster from scratch. At the time of writing, a toaster from Argos cost £3.74. Given that a Cadbury’s Freddo at the time cost 20p, and didn’t involve anywhere as much oil refining, mining or heavy industry and yet was only £3.54 cheaper seems a little suspicious. Where does that money go? How can we justify that?

Thwaites answers that question by building a toaster from scratch – i.e. only with tools present at the time before the industrial revolution. It doesn’t *entirely* work, and it cossts £1187.54, and even that involves breaking a few rules (and laws!) He tried making plastic from potatoes, refined smelted his iron ore, mined his mica – making a significant amount of waste, too.

I will let you contact him or buy his book yourself, but I’ve took a few lessons for this challenge, as follows:

If we are to have appliances, they have to last. They cannot be designed to break. Toasters, particularly £3.72 ones from Argos, break easily and make all of the effort that went into giving someone easier access to toast entirely worthless.

There are several ways this could be tackled, like 1) outlawing planned obsolescence, or 2) taxing goods tested to not wear in well.

If something is easier to replace than repair, why? One reason might be lack of skills, if referring to personal repairs like sewing. To sort this out, 3) we need an enjoyable, informative and sustainable DT education for children and adults, so we can attend to our own needs throughout our lives.

Another reason is financial and practical – if you’re working a 40 hour week, (heaven forbid a 60 or 70 our week) do you really want to use up the time you have to sleep to spend half an hour repairing something you could buy quicker? 4) We need to be in safe, well-paying jobs, to match the productivity that has risen since the 70s and left our wages trailing for decades.

Yet another reason why something is easier to replace than repair is because corporations do not want you to reduce your profits by doing something yourself. Why should tech companies use the same screwhead in their laptop if they could sabotage repair by using multiple different ones?

5) One solution for this problem is to legally require that every single constituent part in an appliance is removable, recyclable, and independent. Imagine being able to buy a compatible phone screen, extra memory for your devices, or even attachable hardware, as easily as we can buy our tech in the first place. Imagine how simple repairing our own belongings could be if we were encouraged to do it, and had the skills too.

One of the reason’s Argos’ toaster was so cheap was because it is not responsible for the damage it causes to the environment. It’s mica mines and its copper mines cause huge damage to landscapes, which Argos can get away with, due to permissive laws and land ownership stolen from foreign countries and indigenous populations. Corporations need to stop treating lives and destruction as bothersome statistics – whether it involves our 6) governments banning irresponsible production, or 7) fining damage so as to entirely repair the environments harmed or lost completely. This could also involve 8) legal, practical and real reparations from imperial western and European Countries to the victims of their colonial expansion across the global south and elsewhere. It’s worth remembering the role Indigenous populations have in safeguarding the majority of the world’s ecosystems.

There are plenty more policies I’ll revisit from this book, and from others – but I have a bit of catching up to do! Let me know if you have any thoughts, and watch out for policies giving just autonomy to citizens, workers, consumers and peoples of the world. You can also look at Thomas Thwaites newer projects, which are new to me, at https://www.thomasthwaites.com/.

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