Peter Mui, Albany, California; founder of Fixit Clinics
DIY Power Surge
"Most things are fixable, but for whatever reason, people don't feel like they have permission to take apart the stuff they own. I'm trying to counter that feeling with Fixit Clinics.
"A Fixit Clinic is basically DIY repair, but with other people. It's a collaborative process. People bring in their broken DVD players or cellphones or whatever, along with some basic tools. We provide the coaching and the specialty tools.
"When we started back in 2009, I wasn't sure how much we'd actually be able to fix. I thought we'd have this big pile of e-waste in the corner. But the vast majority of stuff goes home either fixed or with an excellent prognosis. Sometimes we just don't have the part on hand.
"One woman brought in a beautiful vintage Sunbeam toaster that she had inherited from her grandmother. We started to tear it apart. And lo and behold, at the bottom there were actually adjustment screws. Whoever made it knew that it would go out of alignment eventually. It made me think about all the toasters of that generation sitting in landfills because no one knows about the adjustment screws.
"We're a ragtag group of 10 volunteers, but any 2 of us can put on a successful clinic. Most take place in the San Francisco Bay Area, but we've also held them in Boston, Knoxville, and Minneapolis. I'd like to get as many going as possible. It's a ton of fun just to watch people fix something they'd given up on.
"If enough consumers start opening things up and examining them on the inside, we might be able to say to manufacturers, 'You know, if you just made this one part more robust, the product would last a lot longer.' Ultimately, better consumer awareness could force manufacturers to be more responsible for the life cycle of their products. That's the long-term goal." —interview by Wendy Becktold
E-Scrap Pile In the United States alone, 6.6 billion pounds of electronics were discarded in 2010, and only 19.6 percent of that was recycled.
ON THE WEB For more information on Fixit Clinics, go to fixitclinic.org
Photo by Mitch Tobias; special thanks to Al Lasher's Electronics, Berkeley, CA