SHERIDAN – For the first time in several years, electronic waste (e-waste) collected at the Sheridan landfill showed a downward trend in 2013. However, in the years prior to 2013, electronic waste increased yearly at a high rate, from 56.84 tons in 2010, to 76.18 tons in 2011 and 89.08 tons in 2012.
The reason for the high amount of e-waste has often been attributed to society’s preference to throwaway and “trade up” for newer, faster models, rather than repair various electronics and appliances.
“I believe that to be the case in much of what has been collected, especially with TVs and desktop computers,” said Charles Martineau, Sheridan landfill solid waste manager, when asked if the trend of replacing rather than repairing electronics or appliances is to blame. “It is becoming cheaper to replace than to repair. Initially with the TVs we saw only the old CRT type, most likely being replaced by the new flat screens. Now we are seeing more and more flat screens coming in. Many of the desktops are being replaced with tablets and laptops.”
Another reason for landfills filling with relatively new appliances and electronic devices has been blamed on manufacturers. A 2009 New York Times article noted that manufacturers have been accused of inflating the price of parts so that it is cheaper to replace an item than to order a part for it. For instance, a replacement part might cost $250 for a machine that initially cost just $400.
Sheridan resident James Gilbert, owner of Just Computers, has been in the computer repair business for more than two decades. He said at least in terms of computers, the choice to toss or repair an electronic device can involve several factors, including the age of the machine, the initial price of the device, the cost of the repair, the price of a new machine and even the age of the owner of the device.
“There are a couple of variables,” he said, regarding how he advises customers on their choices. “One variable of course is the age of the machine, whether or not it can even support modernized repair. The other variable is the cost of the individual parts for the repair. We employ the 50 percent rule. If the cost of repair is at the 50 percent mark of the replacement value, at that point, we advise putting the money towards a new machine because you are already half way there.”
“If I feel that a piece of equipment can sustain life and functionality without frustrating the customer, I’ll recommend repair or trade-in credit for a new one,” he added. “But we are very direct when it comes to telling people it is not a wise decision to put in repair.”
Gilbert said not only do financial factors enter in to the decision making process on repair versus replace, but he has noticed a definite generational difference as well.
“I can tell you this much, the mentality in repair also depends on the age of the individual,” he noted. “Younger kids say ‘I’ll just get a new one’. The older generation says ‘we fix things, we don’t throw it out’. The older generation is more likely to come in and get what they have repaired. Younger people are more likely to cut bait and get a newer computer. We see a lot of that.”
Gilbert said that consumers have an advantage with computers in that almost all computers have a one-year warranty that will cover at least some of the cost of repairs during the first year of ownership. He said that some consumers then choose to purchase additional warranty coverage, particularly if the device was very expensive to purchase initially and will be very expensive to replace.
“All computers and all brand new parts come with a factory standard one-year warranty,” he said. “After that one-year warranty you are on your own, it is just plain and simple. At 366 days, you are on your own.”
Gilbert noted that even when customers choose to replace their computer or device instead of repair, he and his technicians make efforts to retrieve and reuse any parts that are still working properly and can be installed on another computer.
Unlike computers, which often come with a one-year warranty, local repairman Leonard Davis said that the appliances he works with, such as washers, dryers and refrigerators, often have no warranty at all.
I don’t think they have any warranties at all anymore,” he said. “I’ve had people that had pretty new refrigerators and they called the store and they said you don’t have a warranty if you didn’t buy any (separately at the time of purchase).”
Davis said without a warranty, appliance owners are left with the option of paying for repairs, which depending on many variables, could be quite expensive, or shelling out money for a new appliance even if theirs is only a year or two old.
Davis, who has been in the repair business since 1967, said he has seen tremendous changes in that time in terms of the quality and reliability of appliances.
“If you can’t fix it for $130 or something, they will replace it and a lot of times they will anyway,” said Davis, about people’s tendency to throwaway rather than repair appliances. “They got appliances so cheap now. How they put them together, find the parts and ship them 1,000 miles and sell them for what they do, I have no idea. I have no idea how they sell them as cheap as they do.”
They are the same prices as they was in 1977,” he continued. “A washer and dryer was about $500 then and you can buy the cheap set for about that now. That don’t make sense, but it is that NAFTA agreement I guess. It has really brought down the price of appliances. And quality also, but that doesn’t seem to matter to people. New is new. But the quality isn’t real good. I’ve been to the dump and seen some awful nice appliances laying there. It is just such a shame.”