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Our Throw-away Society

I got up early this morning, quite annoyed with myself. Only yesterday, I’d been charging a car battery on a lab power supply – and wired it up the wrong way. One cloud of smoke later, I had a dead dual power supply.

It occurred to me that I’d had this old thing for the better part of 25 years – and even then I seem to remember it came second-hand from what used to be called a “radio amateur show” in Leeds.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was never a radio amateur as such – the shows conjure images of dirty rooms full of junk and enthusuasts who don’t wash much (at least that’s the way I remember it) – no, I used to go along to these rallies because there was always the chance of some cheap computer equipment in the days when computers were stricly for hobbyists and quite expensive.

Anyway, I picked up this supply and have been using it regularly since for charging batteries and testing my theory that white LEDS have crappy lifespans. Perhaps now as the smoke settled down this was the time for a sparkly new power supply complete with modern flashing lights? But no, this morning I was feeling ambitious. Thankfully unlike much modern equipment this is not a sealed unit so I decided to take my life into my hands and get the screwdriver out.

As it happens each of the twin outputs had a capacitor and diode across it. The diode I guess was designed to stop just exactly what I’d done – reverse connection – but of course up against a car battery? I don’t think so. What they SHOULD have done was put a MASSIVE diode across the output – and a series fuse.

So, seeing the blackened dead body of a diode, I stripped out the old diode and put in a new one. Voila -newly refurbished power supply. Of course the innards were covered in dust but it just so happens I keep a pack of those air blowers that Cosco do for a few pounds – and blasted the dust out in seconds. Then I noted that the internal meters had clear plastic surrounds internally – and decided to bring the PSU into the modern age by fitting a couple of high-intensity Aqua LED diodes – the type that DO last a long time.

The result, a sparkly new power supply complete with glow-in-the-dark lighting – as you can see in the image above.

All of this took me 15 minutes and I was thinking of the alternative – this is a big, heavy, chunky affair – i.e. landfill. What a waste it would have been – chances are I’ll get another 20 years of life out of this unit. Reminds me of a car radio I had a few years ago. The car was stolen and the electrics damaged. When I got it back, supposedly fixed, I turned on the radio and poof – another cloud of smoke. Thankfully it was a standard fit job so I pulled the radio out and took the top off – one blown power transistor. I checked that this was the only damage – and informed the garage.

Would they repair it?- not a CHANCE. Even armed with the knowledge that it needed a 30p part and maybe £30 labour – they weren’t having it – presumeably because they didn’t have anyone who knew how to use a soldering iron. The result? Replacement £300 radio on insurance, original in the bin.

We talk a lot these days about recycling – we even have special bins for glass, plastic, metal and our homes how get 2 or more bins to encourage separating out the rubbish, but surely what is REALLY wrong is our very thinking on manufacturing – we encourage manufacturers to produce sealed, un-serviceable equipment – on the assumption we’re all too thick in the head or simply don’t have the time to effect any repairs and that the days of servicemen with soldering skills are long gone – but surely that can’t green. Even if replacement means block replacement – surely that’s better than needleslly throwing away complete items for one simple fault? We regularly ditch old mobile phones – which technically could last for many years, just because we’ve scratched the screen or bent a key and desire something sparkly new. Surely a snap-on replacment shell would be better than binning the whole phone including various precious and in some cases nasty materials?

Perhaps we should be looking at adding expected lifespan and “repairability” to the list of desirable attributes when purchasing – instead of going merely for the bling with the thorough expectation of getting something new just a year later?

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