Kaitlin Dryburgh – 11th August 2022
The past week I embarked on the challenge of selling our old TV, not exactly a ground breaking venture however, it was an experience. I have often used sites such as Gumtree, Ebay and Facebook Marketplace to buy and sell items, I hate to see good quality items going to waste when they are perfectly capable of going to another person (all the better if you can get a little money from them too). Although the power of marketing tells us that in order to have any social status in the world, we need to buy shiny new things, the most sustainable way to buy is via second hand, when possible, and plus you never know what bargains you might find.
So this week I put my TV up on Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace in the hope that it would sell quicker. Within minutes I had three people trying to scam me (the same spiel each time), which continued to be a theme through-out the week. There were people speaking to me like they were haggling for a goat at a market stall in Morocco and then abusive when I declined to go as low as they wanted and time wasters who after two days of saying they were an hour away never appeared. Finally the TV sold, and I was glad to get rid of it as I was 24 hours away from throwing it in the skip. Although this won’t be everyone’s experience and perhaps the area I live in is less forgiving, I’m not alone in finding it harder to sell second-hand items, a quick google and many people are sick fed up with the time wasters on gumtree and the bombardment of scams taking place on Facebook Marketplace. That’s not to mention that if your item isn’t selling or you want to make a quick sale then you can take advantage of the constant nudges to boost your add or make your item a sponsored listing with little price tags to match. In among all that are genuine people who are enquiring, buying, and engaging in human conversations, who are being environmentally sustainable as well as financial.
Nevertheless, little by little we are wakening up to the damages of over consuming and our addiction to pumping out new products with low product lifespans. We also know that neoliberal economies which place a high value on importing products from all around the globe greatly damages our environment (or at least I hope we do). As Scotland embarks on the task of becoming the leader in circular economics, we are asked to reduce, reuse, repair and recycle more, and make the lifespan of our possessions “grow”. However, perhaps what we need is more regulations and places (in person and online) to facilitate this, maybe the free market isn’t the only way to do this or indeed the best? In fact what we’ve seen in recent years are companies which will actively make it harder for us to repair our possessions, so should we be leaving it up to the free market to facilitate the way we buy and sell second hand items? Where companies such as Apple have been exposed to perfecting the art of making their products break or becoming too slow to function at just the right time where you’ll still believe their product is of high quality and want to buy another.
Governments have tried to solve this issue and here in the UK the ”Right to Repair” law came into effect in July 2021. It is an important step in making it easier for consumers to repair their items, but it does by no means go far enough to really cut down on waste and force businesses to seriously make repairs possible. The Right to Repair law only covers certain electrical goods, such as washing machines, dishwashers, and TVs, and as we’ve seen from companies such as Apple there are many reasons why items such as smartphones and computers should also be covered under this law. However, some argue there are really important issues that this legislation fails to address, such as the price of spare parts, as manufacturers are still at liberty to attach whatever price tag they so wish. Due to this it doesn’t go far enough to prove to the consumer that not only is repairing better for the environment but it’s actually cheaper. There are no VAT exclusions for spare parts that could demonstrate the advantages of repairing, and although manufacturers have to provide spare parts that doesn’t necessarily mean they will provide the option of them being sold separately. For example a single component might have worn down as part of the drum on your tumble dryer however, you might be forced to replace the whole drum as they may only sell that single component as part of a package, dramatically increasing the price. It is also not unheard of that manufacturers or will replace broken items instead of repairing them, and although this can be quite an attractive offer its just adding to the ever-mounting electrical waste in the UK.
If we had proper regulations in place, we could ensure that manufacturers have a duty of care for the full lifespan of their products, ensuring that it lasts as long as possible in a way that doesn’t burst the banks of consumers. At the end of the products life manufacturers should also be responsible for recycling the item or pay a tax that ensures we have the means to do so.
However, being able to reuse is just as important as repair, perhaps what we need is a nationalised online re-selling marketplace in which residents of Scotland can safely sell and buy their second-hand products. We would be able to verify identities and make it possible for individuals to be held to account if they’re trying to scam another person and make it safer to enter into a transaction with others. Not to mention we can really start to bring our circular economy to life and actively encourage people to buy second-hand or to re-sell before they visit the recycling centre. More so this could keep more money in the pockets of citizens rather than big multi-national manufacturers who thrive off the prospect of you binning your unwanted possessions
I believe by being a little more imaginative we could really have a circular economy, where repairing items becomes the norm and is easy to do so. Where it is not solely up to the free market to facilitate reusing and we can provide individuals with a safe and easy place to buy and sell our unwanted treasures, I would much rather that than fattening the pockets of Mr Zuckerberg.