Repair vs Replace: How Simple Decisions Can Affect the Environment

We’ve all experienced that thing where something we own is basically working fine but has one or two errors or malfunctions. Think of the unbearably cracked screen on an already old phone or the shattered lens on a camera that’s getting closer to obsolescence.

In these situations, the temptation to forgo repairs and treat ourselves to a brand-new replacement or upgrade is strong, but choosing whether we’re going to repair or replace appliances and other possessions will directly influence a number of waste-related issues

In this article:

The Problem With Waste Disposal

The primary issue with throwing things away is that the vast majority of waste goes directly to landfills. Whether landlocked or forming their own islands of trash, these monumental piles of garbage will pollute the nearby environment, either by fragments making their way into the diet of the local wildlife or toxic chemicals being released into water and airthere are plenty of other ways they can harm the natural world too. 

Of course, many items are disposed of and recycled, but a lot of things that are classified as recyclable are actually sent directly to landfills, as regulations may not always be followed or checked closely enough. In some cases, waste is burnt for fuel, but this in itself releases lots of toxic material into the atmosphere. 

Opting to replace items rather than repairing them directly contributes to waste and a variety of potential environmental problems. Second-hand selling is a decent way to offset this effect. However, with the rise of planned obsolescence in tech, this is often unviable.

What Is Planned Obsolescence?

Planned obsolescence is a technique used by many companies and businesses to keep a steady stream of sales from the same customers for years on end. For example, a smartphone company may have no interest in their phones lasting in terms of functionality and fashion for a very long time, as it would cut off potential purchases when their new models come out. 

This in itself contributes to the issue of waste as older phones and gadgets start to glitch out, become unresponsive to repairs, and appear unattractive to second-hand buyers. 

Automotive Waste Management

In the world of automobiles, waste management has issues all of its own. A good car will last you years, but if malfunctions start to bother you too much as an owner, it can be tempting to scrap it rather than repair it. While there’s a market for most second-hand cars, people often don’t want to undertake the process of making repairs and adjustments, and would rather send them to the scrap yard. In fact, inadequate access to the right repairs is often the reason why vehicle owners find themselves prematurely in the situation of needing to replace their vehicles.

Scrap yards are essentially no better than landfills, with cars stacked up in their hundreds in a sort of mechanical graveyard. Of course, there is demand for scrap metal, but the ratio of cars in to metal out is totally disproportionate.

What Can You Do?

The next time anything breaks, ask yourself if you really need that new car, new phone, or anything new. A repair may allow you to use something that you previously believed to be beyond repair while also saving you money and, most importantly, causing less environmental impact.

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It is better to repair items than replace them. Replacing an old item with a new one can have adverse effects on the environment. However, by repairing items instead of purchasing a new one, you cut down the whole manufacturing process and the carbon emission associated with it.

The top 5 benefits of repairing as opposed to buying something new are: 

  1. Replacement costs can be significantly reduced by restoring worn components rather than replacing them. 

  2. The process of the repair can help identify any environmental problems and root causes of failure, not just mechanical symptoms.

  3. Repairing saves the cost of foundation changes.

  4. The costs of replacing old parts with new ones are avoided.

  5. Repairs are done efficiently increase the goods’ life through proper maintenance.

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Amy Hood
Sustainable Mobility Expert
A passionate automotive enthusiast who happens to care about the future of the planet, Amy brings valuable insights to all environmentally responsible vehicle owners.