One Person's Junk is Another's Treasure

When I was on vacation a few weeks back, a friend had related a story to me of a proprietor of an electronics shop who also repaired TVs, but was lamenting that TV repair business has been dropping off, for similar reasons as described by Rhett in The End of the Throwaway Appliance

Why would you repair an appliance if it is just a little bit more to buy a new one? Even if I did spend $100 to fix my washer, who knows – something else might break next week. In too many cases it’s just simpler to buy a new thing than to repair. I think this sucks.

I don’t share Rhett’s optimism that the problem of throwaway electronics can be fixed — his solutions will work, but only a sliver of the population has the technical skills and/or tools to implement them.

(Another reason the TV repairman’s business was dropping off was that it was taking weeks to get parts for one of the popular brands, and nobody is willing to wait weeks to get their TV back, when a new and bigger/better on is available right now.)

I can think of an alternative.

Here is the real problem. I wasn’t exactly sure which part was broken. The control panel costs about $100 and the control board has a price around $120. On a gamble, I could order the control panel (pretty sure that’s where the problem was), but what if I’m wrong? I could possibly return the piece but the whole process could take a significant amount of time.

What if you had ten broken washers, or TVs, or whatever, of the same make and model, or at least had compatible internal parts? They would probably not all have the same problem, so you could swap parts around and get some of them working, either as a diagnosis (you’d then buy the parts you needed) or as a working product. If people are just tossing their old products out, that may require a trip to the landfill or some other disposal site — an enterprising person could offer to haul them away — at no cost to the owner! — and then sell the fixed machines. It’s mainly a matter of how many you could fix and sell in a given amount of time, and having enough space to do the work.

I know back in grad school I’d seen ads saying “we’ll haul away your old washer/dryer”, so I assume that’s what they were doing, but I don’t know if that’s still a thing with the more computerized machines of today. I think that this is a more viable solution to the throwaway appliance — leverage some economy of scale to make it into a refurbished appliance.