Re-tooling the Repair Industry

Thanks to the Burbank Recycle Center for sharing this story with us. Their local version appeared in Burbank’s Spring 2019 edition of Reduce, Reuse, Rethink Burbank,  which is written and published for them by Eco Partners.

When Bill Czappa was a boy, he honed his tinkering skills with his favorite toy: an erector set. Hardened steel rods and screw clamps allowed the construction of hinges and the transmission of mechanical power via rotating parts such as pulleys, gears, wheels, and levers. But what it really built was a lifelong love of tinkering, problem-solving, and fixing electronics. Having been in the electronics repair business since 1969, Czappa has seen the commonplace practice of fixing non-working electronics diminish as equipment has become less durable, more disposable, and harder to repair.

One of the first signs of trouble came after U.S. television maker Zenith moved much of its manufacturing to Mexico in the early 1990s. “Zenith’s slogan used to be ‘Quality goes in before the name goes on,’” Czappa said. “The first product of theirs that came into the shop for repair, the name tag had come off.”

The demand for cheap goods was further enabled by cheap disposal. This moved the public away from repair to “replace” by buying new. Electronics became harder to fix due to poor design, low quality components and manufacturers not supplying replacement parts.

More concerning, repair has declined as a vocational career option. As recent generations of young people traded in erector sets for video games, this has meant “game over” for finding qualified employees with repair skills.

These challenges have led to the closing of many local repair businesses. With them, knowledge, skills and history are also lost while more e-waste is created. Czappa’s business survived by diversifying its services and did well enough that Czappa recently sold the business. Yet, he still works there to get his “fix” for tinkering and advocating for repair.

Even though products may not be as durable as they once were, Czappa advises against giving up on equipment so quickly. Before heading to an e-waste drop-off, here are some tips:

• Printers: Often, inkjet cartridges need to be replaced because the ink dried up, not because it’s empty. Don’t let the printer sit for long — try and print something once a week.
• DVD players: The reason your player quit working? It simply may need to be cleaned. (Czappa estimates that 60% of the “broken” DVD, CD, VCR and other players just need a good cleaning or the circuit board properly soldered.)
• Antennas: Bypass expensive TV HD upgrades and cancel cable by using an antenna (and the picture is actually better).
• Replacement Parts: Buy products from companies that stock parts.
• Durability: “Cheap” often has a cost both financially and environmentally. (Most products today last two years before needing repair compared to lasting 10 years for a product made 15 years ago.)

Let’s help to save local repair businesses. Whether it’s fixing shoes, altering clothing, or proactively scheduling regular maintenance on your vacuum cleaner or lawn mower, these are practices with many benefits. You’ll be valuing resources and keeping them from the disposal system, but more importantly, you will be investing in the art of repair and knowledge for the future.


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