‘It’s Madness’ — Self-Taught Repair Guru Takes Swipe At Needless Tech Waste

A self-taught electronics repair man who specialises in bringing electronic devices back to life has hit out at big tech companies, accusing them of needlessly working against the environment to maximise profit at the expense of their own customers.

The latest hot new device, gadget or gizmo is usually a failsafe choice when buying Christmas gifts for the person who has everything.

But with Ireland named as the third-biggest producer of tech waste in Europe, more industry experts and sustainability advocates are calling for repairing and recycling to become the new norm.

Steve Sherwood, who runs a dedicated tech repair shop in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. Pic: Michael Chester

These include Steve Sherwood, who runs a dedicated tech repair shop in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.

He said: ‘It’s crazy. The attitude is just, “If it’s in any way damaged, chuck it away”.

‘Sometimes there’s barely even anything wrong with it.

‘If your laptop won’t turn on, for example, there’s a good chance it’s a circuit board problem. They’ll offer you a replacement motherboard, which would be almost the same cost as a new laptop, so they’ll encourage you to just buy a new one.

‘A lot of the time a screen replacement on a hundred-quid phone would be almost a hundred quid itself, so you obviously just get a new one.’

With Ireland named as the third-biggest producer of tech waste in Europe, more industry experts and sustainability advocates are calling for repairing and recycling to become the new norm. Pic: Richard Clark/Getty Images

Part of the problem, he explains, is that tech companies no longer provide schematics – electrical diagrams of how the components of a device’s circuit board are linked together – that would allow relatively simple defects to be fixed cheaply and quickly.

If repair technicians don’t have access to the device’s schematics, they have to figure out how it was designed through educated trial and error.

‘Years ago, if you bought a piece of tech, you would get the engineering schematics with it so you could repair the device. Nowadays, pretty much every tech company doesn’t want you to have schematics and make it illegal to leak them.

‘It’s intellectual property – they don’t want anyone to copy the device.

‘It’s also that if it’s broken and you don’t know how to fix it, you will buy a new one.’

The latest hot new device, gadget or gizmo is usually a failsafe choice when buying Christmas gifts for the person who has everything. Pic: Lya_Cattel/Getty Images

Tech gifts featured heavily in the estimated €980 spent by Irish householders on average this Christmas – up from €832 in 2021.

As a result, many of the phones, tablets or laptop we currently own will be jettisoned this year, although many devices have little or nothing wrong with them.

Last year Irish households produced an average of 52.4kg of electrical waste – the weight equivalent of a healthy, average-height woman – putting us third highest in the whole of Europe, according to a study by Clear It Waste Removal.

Mr Sherwood, who first taught himself to fix devices as a youngster by reading electronic engineering books, argues that tech products are increasingly being built to become obsolete after a few years, forcing users to buy new, more expensive models.

He said: ‘Devices aren’t built with repairability in mind. Without schematics or anything, it’s like trying to fix an engine with your eyes shut.’

He also stressed that recycling after a device is beyond repair needs to become common practice.

‘It just sickens me to see that there are so many potentially perfect machines just chucked in holes around the world,’ he added.

‘A good percentage of electronic waste in Western countries ends up in Africa and their method for dealing with it is to stick it all on a barbecue, cook off the plastic and save the metals.

‘It’s madness – a lot of these electronics are built to be fire retardant, so if you force fire onto them, you can imagine the sort of chemicals that are released.’

Reporting by Olivia Dean.

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