My Carbon Footprint: YouTube can’t save us from a white goods wipe out

Britain is the biggest chuckers-out of e-waste in the EU

Kate Hughes
Thursday 12 May 2022 11:54 BST
<p>A third of us are now buying sustainable domestic appliances</p>

A third of us are now buying sustainable domestic appliances

It’s the fourth time I’ve done this journey in three months – a 100 mile-ish, multiple-hour round trip to pick up a used dishwasher and cart it back home. I reckon I could drive this part of the A303 in my sleep.

I now know I pass several big electrical department stores on the way, with their rows of new, warranty supported versions of the same thing. But no, that would be too easy.

The UK has a massive electronic waste problem – this much we know. We’re the biggest chuckers-out of e-waste in the EU.

That conjures up images of mountains of mobile phones and monitors, laptops and tablets, with all their precious metals and other useful commodities. But half the nation’s e-waste is white goods, so the dystopian piles are equally as likely to comprise fridges and freezers, washing machines, tumble dryers – and those dishwashers.

We don’t buy new stuff. Unless we’re talking pants, mattresses or lightbulbs. (Second-hand lightbulbs. Not a thing.)

So when the dishwasher packed up the first time, we spent two days on the kitchen floor trying to fix it – one eye sceptically on a YouTube video or twelve, and the other on the internal organs of the machine, which naturally bore no resemblance to any of the images. After replacing three different bits, with no luck, we gave up, stripped out the useful bits, heaved the rest to the back door to reluctantly send to the recycling centre, and scoured Marketplace and eBay for a reliable-looking replacement.

Off down the A303 I went.

The “new” one lasted two weeks before the spinny, water flinging thing packed up. This is undoubtedly the downside of the second-hand electricals market. Unless the item is professionally refurbished with warranties to say so, reliability is only based on what some bloke just outside Wincanton tells you as he tries to offload said item from the pavement before the neighbours complain or the council fines him.

Spinny water flinging thing was duly replaced, twice, but still nothing.

I don’t think you or I need or want to explore the details of the litany of subsequent fails. I’m starting to think I must have some sort of disruptive magnetic field that kills off electrical goods as soon as I go near them. Either that or there’s a problem with the plumbing.

This was and still isn’t going well, even in a household containing a mechanical engineer with the skills and tools to pull stuff apart and have a hope of getting it back together. YouTube is a patchy resource at best, and nobody in an out-of-town warehouse full of gleaming new items is going to take the time to help you not buy whatever they’re selling.

The right-to-repair legislation now apparently embedded in our consumer rights and the obligations of the retail electrical industry seems to have changed little.

Elsewhere though, there are glimmers of change in what has long been a series of subconscious buying decisions from brands which are at best opaque about the impact of their production processes, repairability and, eventually, how easy they are to strip down for spares, the removal of poisonous gases in the case of fridges and freezers, and the separation of useful, even highly valuable materials.

Research out this week shows more than 17 million of us are now turning our backs on big brands as we search for more sustainable – if still new – products when their next round of domestic appliance purchasing comes round.

A third of us – around 14 million consumers – are now buying sustainable domestic appliances as a priority to combat plastic waste and their general carbon footprint, according to Lupe Technology.

Meanwhile, a small regiment of defunct dishwashers is now lined up expectantly by the back door, we’ve hurtled through a big chunk of electricity on an appliance tour of the southwest, even if it has come from solar, and we’re still washing up by hand, with its inefficiently high level of water use.

So much for reducing consumption.

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