Reawaken sleeping electro

How many unused electrical and electronic devices are lying around gathering dust in the average household? Why is it so difficult to bid them farewell, and what can we do to breathe new life into them? To find answers to those questions, together with Recupel, Leuven-based repair platform Maakbaar Leuven is setting up a citizen science project.

Maakbaar Leuven is a platform of volunteers and organisations whose mission is to stimulate and support the local repair economy. Among other things, it organises repair cafes and functions as an expertise centre for a citizen-oriented circular economy. Thanks to these activities, it partners closely with households in Leuven, and is the ideal partner for conducting research into how they deal with unused electrical and electronic devices.

Buried treasure

Recupel itself organises a biennial survey that shows that the average Belgian family has no less than eleven unused appliances in its home. With Maakbaar Leuven’s citizen science project, Recupel wants to find out what kinds of appliances these are and, more importantly, why they are not being used (or discarded). “Those devices have enormous value,” says Nick Davids of Maakbaar Leuven “and not only in terms of recyclable raw materials, but because many of these appliances are still perfectly usable or repairable.”

“We know from experience that about one in four broken devices can be repaired without spare parts. Repairers need nothing more than a screwdriver, so to speak. With spare parts, you can even refurbish up to two-thirds of these devices. Fortunately, increasingly more attention is being paid to repair and reuse. Recycling is also important, of course, but the best way to preserve the value of a device is to use it for as long as possible.”

“This project is a good opportunity to breathe new life into electrical and electronic devices.” NINA DONVIL, PARTICIPANT

Come out of the closet

The citizen survey by Maakbaar Leuven, which was given the name ‘Slapende Toestellen Uit de Kast’ [Sleeping Devices Come Out of the Closet], does not focus solely on the number and type of unused devices. “Making an inventory is the first step,” says Davids. “After that, we investigate what the barriers are: Why do these devices remain in the closet? We also look at the electrical and electronic devices that people do bring in to find out why. Because the third phase of the study focuses on ways to lower those barriers and encourage collection. Finally, we check what is possible with these devices: Are they reusable, repairable or ready for recycling?”

Wanted: the citizens of leuven

For this study, Maakbaar Leuven will focus on the inhabitants of Greater Leuven. Nina Donvil is one of them. “My first reaction was: ‘Oh no, we might also have a lot of stuff lying around at home that we don’t use any more.’ It is easy to lose sight of this when your to-do list gets too long. For example, we still have a steam machine here somewhere for cleaning carpets. We ended up using it only once. This project definitely provides a good opportunity to give devices like this a new life. And, we can get rid of some of the clutter in the cupboards, which is a nice bonus because we live quite compactly (laughs).”

Interested parties can register to participate through until the end of June. From all the submissions, Maakbaar Leuven will select fifty families to interview in greater depth about the research questions. “The research itself will be spread out over a year,” says Davids. “We hope to publish the first results by November. We certainly want to give interim feedback to the participants to motivate them. And we regularly meet together with Recupel. They are our sounding board. Recupel provides expertise and also funds the research.”