Reuse, Recycle: Now Is The Time To Repair

05/10/2016 16:55
Jill Ferry Photography via Getty Images

I am what they call a "late adopter" in terms of technology; I only countenance doing something modern when young people have done it all their lives. I am sceptical of new things and nostalgic for a time when they didn't exist. Proof: last weekend I eulogised about the positive features of a rolodex to my disbelieving children when they encountered a retro-cool one in a junk shop and wondered what it was.

As a late adopter I can also proudly report that my lifetime ebay sales have now topped £35, and that the hours spent attempting to monetise my latest declutter mean that this represents a wage rate well below the minimum wage, even at the young person's rate. And I am fully aware that the first articles like this were written about 10 years ago.

Last Friday when I was "working from home" I conducted a psychological experiment on myself by pretending for a few hours late in the day that e-baying was actual work, on the grounds that there was some economic activity involved. I admitted this to an old friend who had texted to moan about their actual actual work; she admired my commitment to the "circular economy". I also admitted it to my next door neighbour when I took a break from strenuous clothes photography to put out the bins, who said not to worry about the money and enjoy the "allocative efficiency" of my things ending up somewhere where they are wanted. Psychologically I found it frustrating, but now that I have started I also find myself driven to finish getting through the pile of B-rated clothes on my desk so that I can, eventually, savour that sweet success of a drip-drip of small paypal credits.

Being allocatively and environmentally efficient is certainly part of the motivation, but there is a more serious point for people who are cash constrained and lack the ability to work in a conventional way. Research that we undertook a few years ago for Google demonstrated that that parents of pre-school children are disproportionately more likely to engage in on-line selling from home than others, with a strong effect amongst the lowest income families. This is the internet providing financial help for those people with caring responsibilities who need it the most.

Whatever the motivation, we should go with the flow of this. The Swedish government, for example, is now introducing tax breaks designed to grow the repair industry. They are proposing to cut the VAT on repairs and also to allow individuals who employ others to repair their broken machines to claim back the labour cost from their own income tax. As a policy wonk this strikes me as a good example of using the state to shape private sector markets in the public interest, akin to the regulations and tax breaks that created a market for renewable energy.

And it feels like a natural next step. After all public policy has made huge strides in recyling over the last few decades, ebay has spurred the market in re-using, so the next step surely is to find an easy way to repair.

In fact this might be a solution for us nostalgic late adopters. If I branch out into finding a way to use technology to fix other people's old-fashioned pre-loved goods as well as selling my own I can relinquish my late-adopter status and be the beginning of something that is just beginning to grow. Refurbished rolodex anyone?