Circular Podcast with Janet Gunter - Katie Treggiden Skip to content

Circular Podcast with Janet Gunter

How can broken items be given new value? Is repair only to be used when an object is spoiled or broken? Can repair be aspirational? On today’s episode, I’m talking to Hans Tan, Tiffany Loy and Hunn Wai from the R for Repair exhibition, which ran from 13 January until 6 February 2021 at the National Design Centre, Singapore. The exhibition, curated by Tan, shone a timely spotlight on global waste by showing how broken or discarded items can be given new value.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is circular, a podcast exploring the intersections of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the Thinkers, Doers and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take make waste model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about repair.

Janet Gunter 

I think we need to find this, like the hook with people, you know, provide encouraging spaces, encouraging practices, show those things, share them make things easier for people, but not expect that everyone is going to repair all the things tomorrow and you know, completely revolutionise the way they exist. And I think the other important message that we always tell people is that the barriers to repair are often systemic. So it’s not on you to figure out you know, how to change a battery in a mobile that just was designed not for that to happen, you know, how are you going to change the battery in your air pods when Apple itself cannot change the battery.

Katie Treggiden 

Janet Gunter is the co founder and outreach lead at the Restart Project and a leading right to repair campaign. A British American activist and anthropologist she has lived and worked in Brazil, East Timor, Portugal and Mozambique. And she’s now based between South London and Nottingham in the UK. The Restart Project is a social enterprise that aims to fix our broken relationship with electronics. Janet and her colleagues facilitate people teaching each other how to repair their devices, from tablets to toasters, they work with schools and organisations to help them value and use that electronics for longer. And they use the stories they collect to help demand better, more sustainable electronics for all. You can tune into the Restart Projects, podcast, Restart radio, wherever you find your podcasts. Janet, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s a real honour to have you on the podcast. I’m excited to talk to you. I would love to start right at the beginning and understand the role that repair and mending played in your early life and your childhood as you were growing up.

Janet Gunter 

I mean, that’s, that’s interesting. I mean, I don’t have like, you know, super memories of mending, I have more memories of making and being outdoors and camping. I would say, it’s funny because I actually had this one really funny moment where I realised that my dad wasn’t so into DIY as I thought he was. So I was like, wait a minute, you didn’t put that drywall in somebody else did. And then I was like, wait a minute, what was the book about household DIY, the one where I thought you tiled the bathroom was like, No, none of that. But my next door neighbour’s father had a woodshop. And you know, as problematic as it might be, I was kind of treated as one of the boys, it was the 80s you know, it was my kind of way into making so we definitely made a lot and mostly with wood. But it was that creative time wasn’t it, where, where materials were things to be used in like any which way. My brother and I used to make toys as well. But it’s funny, you know, there’s a time I think it’s probably around maybe age 10 or 12 when schooling just seems to kind of overwhelm or destroy all of that. And so after about that time, I don’t remember being so hands on. Really? Yeah, with with materials and things.

Katie Treggiden 

I think that’s really interesting and I think my my poor stepfather was a father and stepfather to five girls. And I can remember building a wall with him, yeah, probably about eight or nine and decided I wanted to be a builder when I grew up. And you know, that thing of being sort of one of the boys I think it’s really interesting when it comes to kind of DIY and I’m really interested in the gender implications of the word repair versus mending.  I think when you say repair or fixing or hacking, you tend to think of sheds and men and wood snd when you talk about mending, you tend to think of textiles, and women and I just, I think that’s fascinating, because essentially, those two words should be interchangeable.

Janet Gunter 

That’s true. And you know, my mom, she, my mom’s English, she grew up making her own clothes, you know, in the 60s in England. And she, you know, she really very much knew her way around the sewing machine and she probably was doing quite a lot of mending and repairs at home that I almost didn’t even you know, yeah, I didn’t consider that as I don’t know as like a kind of the same thing, as one in the same thing. And I I mean, I wasn’t as interested if I’m honest, you know, I remember having, you know, just I was, I guess what they called in the 80s a tomboy, so I just remember, you know, being put in a dress and being like, this is so horrible. And the dress was like handmade right? So yeah isn’t crazy how gendered things were. But then I come back to this, it seems that things are even more gendered now, in some ways, and if you go into a toy store, or you look at careers and how things are presented to young people, I think, in a way, I think it’s worse than the 80s.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes, I suppose at least I was the same as you grew up in the 80s, very much, a Tomboy. And we were kind of allowed to be Tomboys. Right. That was a thing that was okay. Yeah, so I guess although it’s weird that I had to be called tomboy, at least that was accessible to us

Janet Gunter 

just didn’t feel so you know, a trip to the toy store didn’t feel so, I mean, I was obviously in the boys aisles or whatever. But I don’t think they were labelled that I was just in the, you know, He-man aisle or the, you know, the Lego aisle. But now, I think they actually almost they have their gender with colour and with like, even they name them like boys and girls. And I just have a bit horrified by all that.

Katie Treggiden 

Yes it’s frightening. And I think you’re right when it comes to educational choices as well and career choices  for young people. I’m also interested to know about the different attitudes to mending.  You are British American so I’d love to understand kind of the difference between the Brits and the Americans. And also you’ve lived and worked in Brazil, East Timor, Portugal, Mozambique, London, and Nottingham, so I would love to understand kind of any insight you’ve got into how attitudes to repair differ in all of those different cultures and geographies?

Janet Gunter 

Well, I’m still learning about, I guess, British repair culture and mending culture. I mean, obviously there’s the kind of iconic world war two kind of propaganda and messaging around, repair and thrift. I think that’s like a big part of the British heritage and I definitely got that from my mom, even growing up in the States. In the States, there’s much more of a kind of libertarian kind of, like, you know, I own it, I can repair it, I’m gonna, you know, I live on the frontier kind of thing, you know, and there’s almost there is sort of a, like a borderline like colonial machismo kind of attached to repair in the US. And we even see that in the right to repair campaigning, which I’m sure will come back to, but in the other countries that I’ve lived in, you know, the repair cultures are very much shaped by kind of certain limitations to access to materials, access to spare parts, access to new products and the places I’ve lived, that are, you know, kind of further, you know, much more removed from global global markets, whether that’s because there’s like, you know, major taxation on imports, which is the case in Brazil for a long time, or whether that’s just you were, you know, you’re in provincial Mozambique, and you just can’t get the things you need. The ingenuity and the culture of repair and hacking and fixing pretty much arises from that need. So, yeah, I’ve seen I worked with most ingenious and fun people in northern Mozambique, farmers who just not only repaired things, but also were curious about making things so you know, making irrigation systems generating energy, like, you know, kind of figuring out the nuts and bolts and putting stuff together making things and that was really inspiring. And then I worked with some homeless squatter movement in Brazil, where a lot of people made money from waste picking. And threre you know, they were just, they were fishing really valuable and amazing products out of the garbage of rich people, and refurbishing bringing them back to life or reselling them. Yeah, and then I guess in Mountain Timor, I saw a lot of the same ingenuity that I saw in rural Mozambique and really repair culture does really, it does change depending on you know, what materials you have access to what things your culture really, values more than anything. But a lot of these places, you know, people don’t value technology, for its own sake, they really more value technology for what it’s immediately going to bring into their lives. And I think that’s a crucial difference as well. And then in Brazil, particularly, there has arisen this really playful culture of hacking and it’s called Gambiah. And Gambia has like, it’s kind of tongue in cheek. It’s like, you know, take some stuff thats not necessarily working and repurpose it or remix it and it can be, really it can be kind of like the slacker repair, or it can be something  really playful and silly and giving a new life to something that otherwise would have just been considered garbage. And it has to do with this kind of elders this whole Brazilian culture and heritage of kind of layering of like mixing, mixing different things, different cultures. So that’s pretty cool. I definitely recommend to read, there’s a friend of ours called Felipe Fonseca, Brazilian scholar, and he’s written some really great stuff about Brazilian repair culture. So go out and read that.

Katie Treggiden 

Cool, I will pop that into the show notes so people can check that out. Thank you. Yeah, I think it’s really interesting, isn’t it because people tend to think of repair, or certainly in British culture, as I think firstly, due to the make do and mend movement that you mentioned, during the Second World War as something that we do when we have to, you know, that something arises out of scarcity or lack. And certainly, I did a Master’s a couple of years ago and wrote my dissertation on repair and mending and looked at the make do and mend movement. And I was lucky enough to interview a couple of older people who can remember that time. And one older lady I spoke to said, “Og God I’d never darn anything now. Well, I perhaps would, but I’d only wear it in the garden or the house, I’d never wear it out, the shame of it”. And I think there’s this real kind of, you know, this idea that as soon as the war was over, people wanted to move on and put that behind them. And so I think it’s interesting, I guess the other thing I think about repairs is there was very much the sense of putting it back to how it was, and it was never going to be quite as good, but it might be enough so that you can manage. And so I think it’s really interesting you mention this Brazilian idea of the playfulness and the hacking and turning things into something else, you know, so it’s not necessarily giving it back its old functionality, but perhaps giving it a new functionality. And I think that’s a really exciting territory for mending and repair.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think, but I think that’s changing here, too. I mean, so, you know, you look at the visible mending movement and you know, I mostly look at it on Instagram. And you see, a lot of the big proponents of physical, visible mending are British, and some of the innovators and people that are doing really beautiful men’s and so and obviously, they’re inspired by you know, Japanese mending culture and loads of other things. But it does seem like it’s arising here in the UK as well. And if you think about also that, what’s happened in since, okay, so this assistance, my mom was making mod, you know, dresses in the 60s, then you have punk culture. And you know, punk culture was so transformative, like globally, but it you know, it has largely had its origins, here and in fashion, but in a kind of mutant fashion. And so I think we can’t discount that, like that all of those things that have come since. And also, one thing that arises from our community here in Britain is definitely a sense of unfairness and inequality, like a real sense of frustration and anger about that. And a lot of people that come and help repair it, our community repair events, do so because they feel that the economy we have is unfair, that there’s like a  even a poverty premium. If you have to buy, you know, a really cheap thing and it keeps breaking. You know, a lot of people are motivated by that to not just the kind of thrift or not just the environmental motivations, but actually, that’s kind of fundamental unfairness of our current consumer economy.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, that’s a really interesting point, actually. So why don’t you tell us about the Restart Project. This is something you co founded with Ugo Vallauri, tell us about that initiative and what motivated you to set it up?

Janet Gunter 

Okay, well, we started running community repair events that we call restart parties, about eight years ago, and we focus on electronics and electrical, so more or less anything with a battery or a plug. But we obviously have some limitations on, you know, high powered appliances and microwaves and things. So when you come to restart party, you get greeted by kind of a front of house or person who will register and try and figure out what’s gone wrong with your device and then we’ll pair you with a volunteer who has skills to sit down with you, and try and figure out what’s gone wrong, and go through a fix and it’s a learning experience. It’s not just like a free repair shop. And these events, you know, they kind of snowballed. We started them in our own neighbourhoods in North and South London, about eight years ago. And we expected of course, there would be a mountain of stuff and it just endless demand for repairs. But what we did not anticipate was so many people really wanted to share their skills. And that was what was so beautiful is that these people I was just mentioning who are motivated by you know, different motivations, but they come out of the woodwork and there are people  who really want to share their fixing skills, you know, in every neighbourhood in every place across the country, and you know in these kinds of repairs, electricals and electronics, they’re often kind of a very solitary activity in some way. And so bringing everybody together, it almost immediately created this kind of community of repairers and people sharing skills and, you know, enjoying going to the pub together. So that was the real revelation for us was like, wow, you know, this is powerful. And these events are happening all across the UK and really all across the world now, many inspired by the Repair Cafe in Holland. Everywhere, it takes on its own kind of local dimensions and its own local flavour. So I couldn’t say that our activities in London have scaled, you know, and we’ve been able to create a network in London, that’s really great. And, you know, it’s very cohesive,  but outside of London looks different. So in every place, you’ll find a different group of people with a different kind of maybe slightly different ethos or different identity. But, we’re all united by this, this idea that we kind of need to regain our repair and mending muscle, and that we should do it together.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, you talk about it as a people powered social enterprise.  Why is the People Powered bit it’s so important.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, it is important. I mean, when we started we had nothing. And so we definitely were scrappy, we were just doing these community events. And we thought, Okay, well, there’s clearly something here and our volunteers pushed us also to not just to do these events, and kind of deal with the downstream wreckage of this economy, but they said, We need to fix this system, that the products that we’re seeing are not meant to be repaired, this is, you know, supremely frustrating, also repairing low quality stuff. So they pushed us from the very beginning to kind of become more of like a campaign and advocacy group and that’s, that’s kind of why we say where people powered because not just in terms of the activities that we do, but the actual kind of reason for being in our strategy is very much is driven by the people who, you know, have been involved in contributing their skills.

Katie Treggiden 

And it’s interesting, because I was going to ask you, why you think mending and repair fell out of favour, because I’ve always had this sort of timeline in my mind that sees this big peak during the Second World War, and then a drop off, and then a return relatively recently, but you just mentioned the punk movement, which I had never thought of as mending or hacking, or, and of course, it was. So what do you think the timeline has been in terms of the popularity

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, it’s really interesting, I just saw this big YouTuber video about planned obsolescence. And, you know, he was really brilliant when he kind of observed the cycles in product design that you see these days, right? That kind of, especially in relation to these mobiles. And he was saying, you know, for a couple of years, it’s a square bezel, and then it becomes a round bezel, and then it becomes a square bezel again. And I wonder whether, you know, the similar kind of thing happens with repair with mending and you know, that you have these kind of boom bust cycles of interest. And, ultimately, they probably come back to a kind of a mainstream versus a counterculture, this kind of like ying and yang in a way because because I grew up, well, I really grew up, grew up, in the 90s. Like, I was a kid in the 80s, but for me, grunge was massive. And grunge was again, it was like, maybe, 15 years later, after punk it was, we’re raiding our dad’s closets again, you know?  That was massive for me. And I think that I’ve seen that I’ve seen that happen. And maybe I don’t know, has anyone mapped this, but maybe these cycles also follow some kind of boom bust with the economy or there’s a lag.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, it’s really interesting, when I was researching my dissertation in 2008, somebody, an academic whose name escapes me right now, said that darning had died out. And yet I did a word search on the guardian for where the word darning appeared, and in 2008, was exactly where it picked up again, which of course, coincides with the financial crisis. So I think she was probably absolutely right, you know, the period of her research, and she sort of made that statement right at the end of that, and then we had the financial crisis, and it picked back up again,

Janet Gunter 

Sounds like a great dissertation topic.

Katie Treggiden 

I know I’m sitting here thinking, gosh, I could completely rewrite my dissertation.

Janet Gunter 

I was also thinking, maybe in terms of like, you know, study of pop culture like unrelated themes. Have you have you ever heard there’s like a correlation between interest and zombie films, and also the economy, so the boom bust of the economy as well. I wonder if you could even correlate, you know, kind of interest in certain kinds of horror zombie and repair culture?

Katie Treggiden 

Oh, yes, yes, that’s definitely a PhD in that I think isn’t there! I guess my interest comes from a sustainability point of view. And I guess one of the concerns that I have is that sometimes certainly the visible mending movement, as one example can be seen as something that’s quite middle class, and quite niche. You know, not everybody can go to work wearing visibly darned clothes. Some of us are very lucky that we can. And why one of the things I was looking into in my dissertation was is this visible mending movement, something but can go mainstream, because to quote, Ayanna, Elizabeth Johnson, in a book called All We Can Save, which I adore, “to change everything we need everyone” and so I’m really interested in how we make this stuff more accessible. What do you think, are some of the barriers to mending and repair and how can we overcome those to get more people involved?

Janet Gunter 

So I guess, you know, the challenge we have, like, if we’re talking about like our survival on planet Earth, the challenge we’re facing is huge. It’s so big, that it’s really, it’s difficult to make the argument, someone that they have to change all the things, all the things, all the things at once, right. And so I don’t think for example, I’m wearing a jumper that actually needs the visible mend, but I’ve been too lazy to do it, or I’ve just been too concerned with all the other things that I’ve been working on. And I think we need to find is like the hook with people, you know, provide encouraging spaces, encouraging practices, show those things, share them, make things easier for people, but not expect that everyone is going to repair all the things tomorrow and you know, completely revolutionise the way they exist. And I think the other important message that we always tell people is that the barriers to repair are often systemic. So it’s not on you to figure out, you know, how to change a battery in a mobile that just was designed not for that to happen, you know, how are you going to change the battery in your air pods when Apple itself cannot change the battery? So I think we need to also when, you know, encouraging people to make a change themselves, we need to also always reinforce that it’s not only on you, it’s not only on you, and if it makes more sense for you to campaign to change the system, instead of you know, darning a sock, then please go ahead and do that.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, absolutely. So talk to us about the right to repair movement, I felt like this is the perfect. Now, not everybody will understand what that phrase means. So could you start by just explaining what the right to repair is?

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, because a lot of people say, Oh, well, who stops me from picking up a screwdriver or trying, having a go? Well, I guess the point of the right to repair movement is that you can pick up that screwdriver in many cases, but the system is rigged against you, you will not achieve that repair and there’s a number of reasons why. So, you know, increasingly things are being as I mentioned, with the air pods, and other things are being designed not to be repaired. And that’s just an actual choice that manufacturers are making. And know they can say that, oh, that it’s consumer preference and its price and it’s this, and it’s that, but ultimately, they’re making a choice, they’re putting out products that cannot easily be repaired. Also, there are two other practices that are making repair much more difficult. So back when I was growing up, you know, in the the 80s, you’d buy a hi fi equipment, and it would probably even come with a schematic with the actual, you know, you could see how the things made and often times, it would come with some kind of repair manual or something. Basically companies have used copyright and intellectual property to cut off all access to those increasingly, and you can come across them on the dark web, but should we have to be on the dark web. And then there’s the issue of spare parts who hasn’t been in this situation where, you know, you pretty much know what’s wrong with a thing, but you cannot find reliable quality spare parts, and you’re on eBay or something trying to find you know, I mean, that’s not for everyone and so spare parts should be, quality, spare parts should be basically made available for everyone, for everything. And that’s less of a problem with with white goods at the moment than it is for electronics for the most part. But the right to repair describes basically a host of kind of policy measures which we can take to make sure that we take away all these barriers that things are designed to be repaired, that we can access spare parts and that we can get good information about how to repair them.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I mean, there’s also the thing that often you invalidate the warranty right by taking the back off

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, so in the US, in fact, this is quite interesting. So the battle for rights repair has mostly, you know, it mostly came up in the US first And, you know, I think there’s a whole history of all of that, but in this moment in time, it’s interesting, because obviously the Biden administration has taken over the Federal Trade Commission. And finally, all of the evidence that we have that shows that manufacturers are telling people, they’re voiding warranties, and they’re doing it illegally in the US, because it’s not allowed, is going to be resubmitted to a much more friendly Federal Trade Commission. And we hope that they’ll take action because that’s, that’s illegal in the US they’ve made it clear that repairs, don’t void warranties, like repairs on other pieces of an item don’t void the whole warranty. In the EU and in the UK, it’s much more of a grey area and we need  much better guidance on that. There’s so many issues to deal with it’s incredible.

Katie Treggiden 

But there has from what I understand it been a recent win in the UK has agreed to go along with EU legislation. That means as of this summer, manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts. And the implication of that is they’re hoping the lifespan of products will be extended by up to 10 years reducing waste and carbon emissions. I mean, is that the win it’s being made out to be?

Janet Gunter 

Yes, so here’s the problem with the way that the government’s spin on all of this, and, and I’m gonna say even the EU slightly responsible for making it sound like it’s finished, it’s solved, you know.  The EU, those they’re called eco design measures and  because you probably have a geeky audience, I will go into a little bit more detail. So eco design gave birth to those, you know, those labels that we have on white goods, the rainbow label the kind of A to whatever F. And those were to rate the the Eco efficiency of an appliance during the use phase. Well, Europe finally realised that actually, there’s embodied energy in all the things we use. So all the energy that went into the manufacturer should be taken into consideration when we’re thinking the whole lifecycle. So what they decided then is, especially for certain products, we need to be looking at that energy in manufacturer, and the implication is that for many products, more energy goes into their manufacturer than is ever used during their whole use phase. And the implication of that is that we need to use things for longer. So they decided to broaden the remit of eco design, not just to look at the use phase and the energy efficiency when you plug it in, but actually, to force manufacturers to make things that will last for longer and repair is the way in. Now they’ve only done this for a couple of products. So the way it was reported widely was that we have this for everything., but in fact, we only have it for fridges, dishwashers, washing machines, and TVs.  Those are the products so all the other products, all the other things in your house, we still have to fight for. We need to continue to push for that. And we don’t really have I mean, from this government, this is the government that just recently, you know, completely scandalously destroyed the green homes grant for you know eco efficiency in our houses. So we’re not going to trust them. We want to see this, you know, we want to see eco design we want to see right to repair for laptops, mobiles, all the other products and Europe is pushing forward. So we don’t know, really what the plan is here, they’re still consulting, I’m using air quotes consulting. So yeah, it’s not nearly over.

Katie Treggiden 

So what does what what are we calling on the UK government to do here? Is it a question of following what the EU are doing? Do they need to be doing more than that? what’s the what’s the ask from thee repair maintenance?

Janet Gunter 

They always say they want to do better, right? So we’ll say, Okay, great. You can do better than Europe, because actually, Europe only offered up the right to spare parts and repair documentation to professionals. They’ve only offered those to professionals. They haven’t offered those two DIYers and people. So if we want to do better, easy, we offer right to repair to everyone, including the person who wants to do the repair on their own machine at home.  Yes, we stay, you know, aligned with Europe as they expand these measures to other devices, but we offer it to everybody. And that’s a pretty straightforward message ,but we’re going to get a lot of pushback. Yeah, well, one the one thing we really do agree with industry on though is industry wants the UK to stay aligned with Europe on this because it’s a nightmare for them as well. And you know, Europe has the it has the resources, it has the ability to actually regulate on this to create a whole other parallel process is disastrous, and also for us as civil society because we really struggle to keep up with what’s happening in Brussels on these regulations. And to kind of create, two parallel processes and to ask us to be able to keep up with industry and all the lobbyists and all the processes, it’s really going to be difficult

Katie Treggiden 

Yes it’s a lot.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m trying a few different ways of supporting the podcast this time around. So we’ll be back after a short break. And thank you so much to everybody who helped to make this season happen. If you used to feel proud and excited about being a designer maker, about making with your hands, but I’ve started to feel a creeping sense of guilt about putting yet more stuff out into the world. You might want to check out my new Masterclass. If the idea of sustainability has started to feel heavy and full of duty, and you wish you could engage with it in a way that feels more light, playful and creative. You might want to check out my new Master class. If you’ve ever wondered about the potential of waste as a raw material, you definitely want to check out my new Masterclass. Find out more at Katietreggiden.com/masterclass. And if the spelling of my surname has already got your head in a spin, don’t worry, there’s a link in the show notes. This series of the podcast I’m experimenting, you might have noticed that some of the episodes carry paid for ads, and some I’ve donated to charity. In this one, I’m asking you to buy me a coffee. Not literally, I’ve signed up to something called ko-fi a model that allows listeners to thank podcasters by buying them a virtual coffee. And the best bit instead of me ending up overly caffeinated all your donations get reinvested into making more great content like this, more podcast episodes, the links in the show notes or you can find me at ko.fi.com/Katietreggiden, mine’s a decaf Oak cappuccino, thank you.

Katie Treggiden 

Are there manufacturers who are sort of leading the way and doing more than the law currently requires them to?

Janet Gunter 

There are, so here’s the issue for the most part manufacturers and you may have had this experience, you know, in your professional life, as well as that, you know, you’ll often get a, you know, a very enlightened kind of flagship product, a really amazing product that, you know, a team has worked on, and they’ve been given a special licence to make this amazing thing. And then you have a whole back catalogue of rather scandalous other products. And so for us, it’s hard to say that one manufacturer is doing a great job. There are examples, that’s proved to us that they can do it, you know, so for example, Samsung says, you know, oh, consumers want really skinny mobiles and if we, you know, if we make them repairable, then we undo the waterproofing, and we undermine the durability, but actually, that’s a lie, because in their own catalogue, they have devices that satisfy all of those requirements that are durable, that are repairable,  you know that consumers do like.

Katie Treggiden 

Dualit are always given us the example.

Janet Gunter 

They are, however, the toasters that are made in the UK and the high end toasters are brilliant. But look at some of the rest of the products they make. And I mean, I, you know, I don’t I can’t say, but I can see that they’re not made to the same standards, right? And I believe that they don’t supply spare parts for some of those other products in their catalogue.

Katie Treggiden 

Okay. So they’re kind of proven that it can be done, but not necessarily doing it right across the catalogue.

Janet Gunter 

Precisely and I guess, and, you know, they would probably come back and say, well, you know, consumers, they want the cheaper thing. And what we say to that is, like, you know, look at the thriving secondhand market of Dualit toasters, actually, the high end ones, people actually do really want your high end one, and they don’t even care if they wouldn’t necessarily get it secondhand. So, look at a company like Patagonia with it’s one where, you know, this idea that you could, you can reinforce your brand and actually make and take advantage of the fact that people want your product secondhand, like, use that to your advantage instead of producing. I mean, Patagonia, as far as I know, it doesn’t have a cheap crap line for people that don’t want to pay. Instead, what they’ve done is they’ve made it easier to get their products secondhand.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah and Christopher Raeburn’s done something similar int hat he’s launched a whole range of clothes, which they haven’t actually made at all, they’ve just found them. And most of them are kind of Army surplus wear, they have never been worn. They were just sort of over produced, and they’ve sort of curated a collection and put the Raeburn badge on them. And I think that’s really interesting. And there are people sort of going well, couldn’t I just get those from an army surplus store andChristopher Raeburn said, Yeah, go for it, you know, that’s the point.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, but that’s a good, that’s a good example. I’m a trade shopper like I love going to trade the shops because, you know, back in the day I was at the, you know, mega warehouse kind of like, you know, I was going through every last piece of clothing, but in this stage of my life, I  want the selected version, I don’t have time. So I think we really need to reimagine our consumer economy. And I do think we need to keep in the regulations, we do need to keep thinking about this kind of poverty premium issue. And we need to make sure that manufacturers are not allowed to overcharge for spare parts, or ridiculously inflate the cost of products, just saying, Oh, well, the regulations made us you know, put up the price, I think we do need to be sensitive to this issue of fairness and access.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. And I think, you know, not everybody can afford a Dualit toaster, right? So I think we know, we have to have products that are available at lower price points. But as you say, there shouldn’t be a sort of knock on effect that then needs replacing every six months

Janet Gunter 

No and ultimately, it’s all about creating the demand for those products and working with manufacturers, you know, in negotiating with these manufacturers, and ultimately, the companies that are making things in China, and if we come with enough demand for better products, we’re gonna have a much stronger, you know, negotiating position to kind of like, and we’re going to come up, we’re going to get better products for cheaper. In fact, we’ve had interest from organisations that work on quality and standards in China, you know, they want to understand what what these new regulations mean for them and, and how demand will be shifting. So it’s exciting time, but this shift, this change that we need it feels so urgent, and a lot of times the policy changes feel so incremental.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, a little tokenistic sometimes. We’ve talked a little bit about our quality, and theres one project that you’ve been involved in, which really caught my eye, which is the laptop donation project that you undertook during the pandemic, and that was about making sure that kids had access to the kit they needed for home schooling. Which, yeah, tell us a little bit about that.

Janet Gunter 

Well, so for us, you know, we focus on repair. But we’ve always been friends with organisations that reuse that take something and give it a second life. And we’ve always had people coming to our events, even, who’ve gotten things off of like free cycle, or they’ve gotten things free, and they want to fix them to give them on to someone else. And so when the pandemic happened, we started listing initiatives that were collecting laptops, because we knew that people wanted to give them away, and we knew that there was demand. And in this last lockdown that happened in the beginning of this year, at 2021, there was a huge groundswell partly driven by BBC for donating laptops and finally looking at this issue of digital access. And it did, it created a just an absolute massive tidal wave of donations to all the groups on our list. And we started working with some of them in London, to repair the kind of ones that they could, you know, the ones that on their factory line of wiping, preparing for reuse, they just couldn’t do themselves. But the amazing thing is, and I really think this is like a shift to transformation for people is that I think the average person at home who’s watching those BBC appeals was like, Oh, you know, that five year old laptop that maybe I had some boot problem or some frustration with that I just put in the closet, in the cupboard, it I can have a second life. You know, it’s a valuable machine. And I think that’s massive, because we’ve been saying for years, this you know, if you put a solid state drive in an old machine, you an old laptop, you breathe new life, it’s a new machine, we’ve been saying it, but I think the message is finally reached people that that a laptop isn’t obsolete after five years, it can have a second life. I mean, that’s absolutely brilliant. And people are connecting the kind of the waste environment climate agenda with the, you know, fairness and any quality issues. And that is absolutely brilliant.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think it’s really interesting you know, the second tenet of the circular economy is to keep materials and objects in use, and we tend to think about repair, but actually, part of you know, I’ve got a laptop sitting in that bookshelf behind me, I mean, it’s about 15/20 years old so it might be beyond all sort of repair, but I think, you know, this idea that all of a sudden, families had to have a device for every person in the household, you know, and even some of my friends who are, you know, very comfortably off. The kids would play on their laptops, they wouldn’t each, you know, I have a friend who’s got she’s married, she’s got three children, they don’t have five laptops in that house. But when they’re all working from home and all homeschooling all of a sudden that’s what was required. You know, and they are pretty comfortable and yet you know, most people have probably got an old laptop tucked away in a bookshelf somewhere. And so I think it’s really interesting, as you say, how we can start to connect the sustainability, environmental waste piece with the kind of equality fairness piece. And I think that’s a really interesting connection that that project was just a beautiful illustration of.

Janet Gunter 

Well we were hoping, and also, you know, in relation to food and nutrition and kids access to food, I mean, this campaign, you know, for meals, and for access to healthy food for kids in the UK has been really big. And it’s been kind of sustained. And I think that we need something similar in relation to laptops, this problem is not going to go away, because everyone is back at school. You know, it’s a really limiting factor for a lot of young people that they don’t have a familiarity with computing and you know, it’s true that mobile is a computer, but it’s not the experience of computing that you would have in a workplace, or in higher education or wherever you may end up and so I think people need that. And it’s a disadvantage, so a lot of people still have in this country. And I hope that we can sustain the interest in it.

Katie Treggiden 

It just makes me think I can remember a friend of mine who’s a teacher complaining that her kids were spelling the word great gr, and the number 8. And I just, it’s just occurred to me that perhaps that’s because they’re spending all their time on phones, text messaging, rather than on a laptop typing things out longhand that I’ve never made that connection before.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, no touch typing. I mean, when we did it, we did a summer school for asylum seeking youth. And we, you know, they got to kind of basically upgrade and rebuild a computer and take it home. And we asked them, you know, why do you want the computer and many people were like, touch typing, we need to know how to touch type, you know, we’re 16/17 years old, and we don’t know how to touch type. And you know, that really, we take it for granted, we really do.

Katie Treggiden 

I touch type with five fingers. I think I just missed that moment because of the age I am. Right, how do you feel that opinions towards mending and repair are changing?

Janet Gunter 

It does feel really good. I mean, you know, we’ve been at this for, I guess, eight years. And I think at the beginning, we thought, oh, like we’re just before our time, we’re just a couple of years too soon, can we survive until the point when, you know, this will come? And we did we survived and now it feels a bit like you know, we’ve left orbit, we’ve made it all the way to the other planet, and we’re just about to enter the orbit of the other planet, but we haven’t, we’re not anywhere close to the, you know, the lander going down. Like there’s still a lot more in this kind of, well, this or moonshot, let’s say, there’s a lot more that has to be done. And if I think about it, you know, in my lifetime, I’d really like to look back together with everyone else and think, Wow, like what a just incredibly wasteful time we lived in like, you look back and just think, how is it possible that we did this with electronics? And you know, that maybe in my lifetime, we will even have kind of heirloom computers? And whatever devices they will be, they might not be mobiles or computers, but maybe that could be something that we have within within our lifetimes?

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. I wrote a book called Wasted when Trash becomes Treasure and interviewed my dad about his childhood, and my dad’s older, so he was born during the Second World War. And it was really interesting, but talking about his childhood, there was almost no waste. Everything was used or repurposed. I wonder if by the time I’m his age, I could look back and we’ve got back to that state, that would be a really pleasing ark to sort of get back there. Are you? Are you hopeful about the future? Do you think we will, we’ll get to that point where we can look back and say, Yes, we did.

Janet Gunter 

It really depends on the day, honestly. It’s hard, you know, looking at and also, you know, not just, we can’t just focus on the environmental crisis. Yeah, there are so many people ground down by this kind of, form of capitalism that we live under. And by the, you know, just the sheer global demand for natural resources and land. And, you know, I’ve worked on land rights in the past. And, you know, sometimes it does feel really hard to see how this is all really going to play out for you so that everyone can live on the planet. And I’m not even just saying, you know, I’m not just saying biodiversity is obviously important to me. But I’m saying live on the planet, like, you know, how humanity like what is our future? And, I mean, I think what I like to focus on  is what’s happening that’s good and kind of reinforcing that and nurturing that, and but you know, globalisation is so strange, you know, you see, in parallel, you see amazing movements of people helping each other, transforming their lives making things better a micro scale, but then also linking together. And then you see this, you know, when you look at the big picture, I mean, what you see, in terms of just our sheer consumption and destructive appetites globally, sometimes you can’t allow yourself to even look at that, because it’s overwhelming. I mean, do you remember the Ever Given when it was blocking the Suez Canal a couple weeks back? I mean, the sheer size of that ship? We don’t we don’t have the ability to comprehend how big that is. And in the UK, we create seven Ever Givens of electronic waste a year, a year! And like, so you know, sometimes I like to just kind of maybe slightly refocus on on smaller initiatives, but linking the smaller initiatives and linking this kind of alternative movements, and less on the big picture, because sometimes it just feels too much.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I was listening to another podcast, recently called How to Save a Planet. And they were, they were saying, there’s no silver bullet solution to this, you know, this is a phenomenally complicated problem. But it will be solved by 1000s of us trying and failing and trying again. And I just thought, actually, I think that’s kind of what you’ve got to do. You’ve just got to work out which little bit you can make a difference to and just keep your head down and keep making a difference and that’s all we can do.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, I think it’s super important that we in rich countries, and we privileged people in these rich countries, because not everybody’s rich and rich countries. Is that we have we adopt a kind of environmental justice perspective and that we understand that we really, truly look at  how the way we live has impacted certain populations, and you know,  we owe a debt to the world. It’s really massive. And, you know, I think until we understand that, even in our own back garden, so you know, looking at incineration, looking at air pollution in cities, looking at who is actually already paying the price in our own back garden for our lifestyles, and understanding that and making amends for that, then I think, you know, we run the risk of just, I don’t know, doing clicktivism or sharing stuff on Instagram, but not really fully coming to grips with our kind of place.

Katie Treggiden 

There was some interesting research that came out of Norway recently that said that if the whole world adopted a circular economy, the economy would improve, there would be more jobs, there would particularly be more jobs for women and people of colour, you know, that would just be a wonderful outcome. However, if only Norway, and by that I think we can assume only developed nations adopted a circular economy, that would be great for developed nations, however, it would be disastrous for developing nations and women and people of colour would suffer the most. And those are also the people who are most impacted by climate change. So I think we have to in the complexity of this problem, we have to understand the intersectionality of it. And I think climate justice is a really important term because it’s about, you know, doing exactly what you guys are doing, which is saying there’s an inequality problem here and there’s a sustainability problem here and we can do this thing that addresses both of them. And I think those are the problems that we need to work to solve. I don’t think we can solve the climate crisis in a vacuum.  I think it’s so connected with, as you say, the way that we’ve been living on the planet and treating it as something that we can just pull resources out of other people’s countries.

Janet Gunter 

I know, and it’s like and then we’re going to kick away the ladder, you know, so we’re going to  get all those things. We’re going to   have all of our great holidays and do all the things and then be like, Oh, sorry, we did but you can’t do that. This is massive, and it’s something we need to think about. And at if COP26 actually happens this year, you know, we’re not the only one saying this. We need to address consumption emissions.  In a way, the negotiations are laughable that they don’t address consumption emissions, because we have these headlines like the UK has reduced its CO2 emissions by half or whatever. Well, actually, a lot of that was just exported to other countries, which are always blamed in our tabloids for being you know.

Katie Treggiden 

So just explain what consumption emissions are for people not familiar with that term.

Janet Gunter 

So basically, we used to make a lot of things here in the UK and we would have we would have emitted the carbon here in the UK so you would buy a washing machine from the UK or a car from the UK. We would count those emissions as ours now successive governments have basically wrecked industry and we now import most manufactured goods. Inside of those goods come embodied emissions, come emissions that were made somewhere else and for the most part, they were made in Asia and for the large part, China, and you know, those are counted on on the books as Chinese emissions.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I think that’s really important, isn’t it? Because we can sort of sit here feeling smug and blame those countries by producing all the carbon, but it’s our demand that’s creating that carbon? Okay, I feel we could talk for hours, but I’m conscious of everybody’s time. So perhaps you could just give us a sort of a final thoughts to wrap up  a note of hope that we can all keep our eyes on amongst the you know, being conscious of the realities.

Janet Gunter 

Yeah, well, I think  like I was saying about, with the laptops and people connecting the dots between inequalities, and consumption. And, you know,  the way our consumer economy works, I think things are changing. I mean, we’ve seen big YouTubers come out in favour of repair and reuse. And, you know, basically saying that, shredding something, recycling it as the absolute last resort. And these are youtubers with millions and millions of followers. So, it’s really brilliant to see that we are moving past recycling and that people are, you know, there’s a real sense of like change and critique in relation to our stuff and the way that we’re buying stuff. I mean, a good example was Sonos gate. I don’t know if everyone remembers this last year, but Sonos basically discontinued support for some of its speakers, and you know, they encourage people to recycle them, but most people were scandalised by the idea that they should just go and recycle something like why couldn’t it be reused by someone else, for example? And so that caused a huge groundswell that we weren’t expecting. So we think that, you know, the attitudes are really changing. The question is whether policymakers are going to  keep up with, you know, the public’s outrage and interest, but I guess that’s our challenge.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. Well, thank you so much Janet it that’s been absolutely fascinating loads of loads of food for thought there that I think people will be really interested in. So thanks so much for your time. If you enjoyed this episode, can I ask you to leave a review, and perhaps even hit subscribe? I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand how the algorithm works, but I’m told those two actions really help other people to find the podcast. So that would be amazing. Thank you. You can find me on Instagram at @KatieTreggiden.1 one, you can subscribe to my email newsletter via a link in the show notes. And if you’re a designer maker, you should really join my free Facebook group Making Design Circular. See you that this episode was produced by Sasha Huff so thank you to Sasha to October Communications for marketing and moral support and to you for joining me, you’ve been listening to Circular with Katie Treggiden