Recycling is most effective if the steps towards working technology are a small as possible. If you can repair a fridge with a 1 euro voltage regulator chip, it is wasteful to replace the whole power supply board, and totally ridiculous to trash the entire fridge and buy a new one.
Still, we cannot force everyone into this same view on repairing, because people have free will. Someone with a much larger budget may have totally valid reasons for upgrading to a new device, and repair people who work at the customer’s address have no means to go hunting for the exact tiny part that failed, and will often replace whole sub-components in order to bring the customer value for money.
But let’s focus on the electronics that are deposited at the local recycling center, and which are packed in large containers, and shipped off to lord knows where. Do we even know how they are eventually processed? Often transparency in these matters is far from present, and many people don’t really care since their problem was how to remove the clutter from their homes. Same for me by the way, as a Repair Café volunteer I have my collection of stuff to repair or recycle. But I feel there is a better way than bringing it to the recycle center if repair is not economically feasible.
Now a typical discarded electronic device usually has one or two defects. And most devices contain about one to two dozen sub-components that can be replaced if one is to repair the device. Now if those one to two defects take out as many sub-components, then the average device has about 80 to 90 percent working sub-components!
So I’ve started to intelligently recycle devices: I test them to determine the faults, and thus find the sub-components which need repair. If I can find the fault, fine: repair it and sell it or give it away because I need the space more than the tech. If I can’t, take the device apart into sub-components, and determine which might have re-use value. This is typically the case for printed circuit boards, tailor made cables, entire Tape, CD or DVD mechanisms, transformers, etc. Parts which usually are not needed for direct re-use are aluminum and steel frame parts, and hard plastic parts, but the metals can be sold, and hard plastic parts can be recycled usually for free at the local recycling center.
So the start of a new initiative has just been created: these three boxes contains the usable parts of two Philips media centers, free for anyone who wants a specific parts to repair a unit of the same type. I will soon start a new website that showcases all these parts, which can be had for far less (typically just shipping) than identical factory fresh parts. And if we consider the extra energy and resources that won’t be needed for a new part, I think that is a good reason to start doing this!