Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

No quick fixes for throwaway mentality

Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

A friend recently went to buy a replacement remote control for their DVD player. It was going to cost €40. Then she was offered a new DVD player complete, obviously, with its own new remote, for the same price.

We live in a throwaway society. But we are just doing what makes economic sense. A trailer and a tractor for the same price as the trailer on its own?

So I was interested to see that the Swedish government - these Northern European places always seem to the ones to come up with the devastatingly obvious stuff - are considering introducing legislation to incentivise consumers to repair broken goods rather than replacing them.

It is proposed that VAT on the repair of highly consumptive items like bikes, clothes and shoes would be cut from 25pc to 12pc and also that people would be allowed to claim back, from income tax, half of the labour cost on repairs to white appliances such as fridges, ovens, dishwashers and washing machines.

Sweden has already made a lot of progress in reducing the carbon footprint produced domestically - annual CO2 emissions have been cut by 23pc since 1990 and more than half of its electricity comes from renewable sources - so the aim of this move is to try reduce the carbon footprint of goods produced elsewhere.

However, this is as much about stirring personal prudence as it is global frugality, the hope being that the tax break on appliances will spur the creation of a new home-repairs service industry.

It sound like the thing we could usefully employ in this country.

The big multinationals are all very fine and get lots of headlines when a big number of new jobs is announced. But a lot of the attraction is down to our generous grants and the love often dwindles when the supports run out.

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Not only is the repair business labour intensive but the repairs are done locally and, while the boom may be back in some cities, it's different in rural areas and smaller population centres.

I know any reduction in the number of new machines bought may affect manufacturing jobs. However, while the first washing machines manufactured in Britain for decades rolled off the production line at Ebac's Co Durham factory last month, most of these kinds of appliances are made in the likes of China and India. We need to look after our own workforce.

The scale of what we throw away is staggering.

In Ireland, last year, approximately 13 million household appliances were sent for recycling, according to figures from WEE, which looks after the environmental management of electric and electronic waste.

This included nine million pieces of mixed waste electrical and electronic equipment, three million lamps and 600,000 large household appliances.

While these figures represent a 15pc increase in recycling rates over a four year period, WEE estimates that only 25pc of small electrical and electronic waste items are still being recycled and are otherwise being hoarded or sent to landfill.

An incentive like the Swedes would take vision and money and, unfortunately, this country can never seem to get past fire-fighting long enough to do much vision. Given the pressure the Government is under just to survive, it looks like any few spare quid in today's budget will be going towards income restoration.

So there will be little left for the restoration of health services to ourselves … or our washing machines.

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