Wasteful industry – domestic appliance manufacture in the 21st century

green_street17:23 Monday 1st September 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Electrical repairs have seen a surge in business, ahead of new EU rules which came into force today meaning you can no longer buy vacuum cleaners more powerful than sixteen hundred watts. Johnny D has been talking to repairmen in Peterborough. He discovered more people are getting their old ones mended, rather than throwing them away. But he was also told many electrical items are almost impossible to repair these days, leaving us with little choice but to splash out on new ones, even when relatively minor things go wrong.
JOHN DEVINE: Mike Harris, you own Rudkins, a domestic appliance repair shop in Peterborough. You’ve got some concerns over the way manufacturers are making their appliances these days. What’s your beef? What’s your gripe?

MIKE HARRIS: Well the fact that they’re making things that can’t be repaired any more. Like the washing machine manufacturers are tending to make drums where you can’t change the bearings. They’re called a sealed drum. And if you want to replace a sealed drum, it’s about two hundred pounds. So you end up having to buy a new washing machine. If you compare the cost of producing a set of bearings, compared with the cost of recycling your old machine, which is all very green and lovely, the cost of recycling a whole washing machine far outweighs the cost of making a set of bearings. And it seems ridiculous to have to do that.
JOHN DEVINE: Governments always go on about environmentally friendly green sort of thing. You’d think they’d put a stop to manufacturers making products that can’t be mended. That seems very strange to me.
MIKE HARRIS: It’s a ridiculous situation. And we’re importing truck loads of appliances from China, none of which could be fixed. Even yesterday I advised somebody to go down to Argos, buy the cheapest iron they could find, cut the flex off that and put it on their good iron. That’s how ridiculous it is now.
JOHN DEVINE: So what, the flex .. I’m not with this. You can’t get the flex.
MIKE HARRIS: No. We used to buy it on a fifty metre drum, and just cut off two and a half metres, say there you go, there’s your iron flex. Put it on your iron, or we put it on for them.
MIKE HARRIS: But now we can’t get it.
JOHN DEVINE: So you might have a perfectly good iron, that’s perfectly serviceable. But the flex is gone so that’s absolutely screwed it. No good.
MIKE HARRIS: Pretty much.
JOHN DEVINE: And I believe you’re one of the few shops in Cambridgeshire, certainly in Peterborough, with this sort of service, mending things, electrical items, appliances. Is that right?
MIKE HARRIS: There are others. We’re the only shop left in Peterborough. Effectively, out of the nine shops like us that were here in 1980, we’re the only one left.
JOHN DEVINE: And as someone who repairs washing machines, what you’re telling me is the bearing’s going, but everything else on that washing machine is A1 and all right, normally.
MIKE HARRIS: It could well be. Yes. If people are using their washing machine a lot, the bearing is going to take a lot of hammering. And they’re going to suffer.
JOHN DEVINE: You’re also telling me that someone could, in theory, mend their washing machine for eighteen pounds fifty, do it their self.
MIKE HARRIS: Yes. That’s right.
JOHN DEVINE: Is that easy to do it yourself?
MIKE HARRIS: Well I wouldn’t say perfectly easy. It’s an afternoon of cussing and swearing. (THEY LAUGH)
JOHN DEVINE: But you can do it.
MIKE HARRIS: Well kettles for instance. We used to repair hundreds and hundreds of kettles. We used to buy elements by the hundred. Now, we haven’t fixed a kettle in, well I can’t remember how many years. A fair few years. Because they’re all exchange items. They’re not made to be repaired any more.
JOHN DEVINE: I tell you what, I’ve got that kettle.
MIKE HARRIS: Have you?
JOHN DEVINE: Yes. So if it goes wrong, that’s me finished.
MIKE HARRIS: If it goes wrong, it’s landfill. Back in the day, your Russell Hobbs K3 kettle which was a very popular kettle, that used to retail about thirty six pounds. We used to repair them for about twelve or fourteen pounds.
JOHN DEVINE: So financially worth it.
MIKE HARRIS: Well worth it. And they were good kettles. Now, people bring in a kettle, can’t be fixed. We just have to turn them all in.
CHRIS MANN: Johnny D , our reporter there.