Repair or Replace: Which is More Eco-Friendly?

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When is it better to repair or replace a product? Photo: Earth911, Inc.

When is it better on the environment to repair or replace a product? Photo: Earth911, Inc.

Chances are you currently have one or more products in your house in need of fixing. In this case, you have a difficult decision on your hands: repair vs. replace.

While a large impact on your decision to buy new products or fix the ones you have will be (understandably) financial, there is also an environmental impact at play. After all, if you buy a new product, you’ll have to dispose of the old one. But making constant fixes to an outdated model will expend significant resources.

So how do you decide which is the “greenest” direction to turn? Consider the following points.

The Energy Impact

According to the EPA, nearly 40 percent of energy consumed in America is used to generate electricity. As a result, the repair vs. replace decision is largely influenced by whether the product in question draws electricity. If the product in need of fixing plugs into the wall or uses a battery, there’s likely a more energy-efficient model available for replacement.

The American standard for product energy-efficiency is ENERGY STAR, which rates products including appliances and electronics based on their annual energy and water use. While introduced in 1992, the standard wasn’t largely implemented until 1996, and electronics manufacturers are always finding ways to improve energy use. If you have durable appliances, you may be approaching 15 years of ownership, meaning they were manufactured at the very beginning of ENERGY STAR compliance.

The ENERGY STAR website allows you to look up products and their annual energy/water usage, so you can see just how much a new model will conserve. It’s unlikely that repairing your existing electronics and/or appliances will have much of an impact on their energy/water usage, even if it will buy you a year before replacement. That’s one more year of higher utility bills to support outdated technology.

Perform a Self-Diagnosis

The internet is the ultimate resource for the do-it-yourselfer in all of us. Whether typing an error message or a vague problem description into a search engine, it’s likely you can find someone to provide you with a free solution. You’ll then know how challenging repair will be.

One such resource is Fixitclub.com, which provides repair manuals for everything from cars to window screens. If you can identify the problem and the repair process is five steps or less, you’ll often find repair is environmentally-preferred to the impact of transporting new products from the store, opening/disposing of packaging and setting up a new product.

The Warranty Factor

When buying new products (especially electronic), you’ll often be asked about purchasing a coverage agreement offering repairs if the product malfunctions. Most products will come with a one-year coverage plan, meaning the additional plan is likely provided by the retailer or a third-party.

While these plans will reduce your need to replace (since repairs would be covered at no charge), there’s still the environmental impact of shipping a product for repairs. You’re better off investigating products with trade-in programs (the electronic equivalent of leasing a car), where your old product will likely be refurbished and reused.

This means you can own and use the product for a pre-determined amount of time, then trade it in to the retailer toward the purchase of a new product. Common trade-in programs for electronics include Best Buy and RadioShack, but you can always ask about this when purchasing a new product.

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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