Approaches to sustainability

Do you remember shops in the movie Blade Runner where people could buy spare parts, whatever it is you are looking for, like eyeballs? When you use things beyond its expected or intended duration that they are designed for, spare parts are inevitable. People live longer. Second-hand goods trading extend lifetime of things.

Among those things, there are a lot of battery-operated devices, increasingly so. I personally don’t remember having used any electronic device long enough to see its battery life drained of it, except my first electronic tooth brush. The very first model from Braun lasted 7 years of use with me before its battery gave up, which was not replaceable. My father once collected 7 motorola startec batteries from his friends who were changing their phones to newer models because he did not want to ever change his mobile phone (as it was the last simple model in the market, he claimed). He did survive on those scavenged batteries for a couple of years, but eventually had to give up as it became impossible to get more batteries for that model and repair service too costly. He was alone; too few people shared his interest in the market to support him to use his mobile phone that long.

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In the back alleys of the huge mobile phone district in Chengdu, you will see many ‘inofficial’ shops serving the popular needs of their customers – including repairs and spare parts. Easy-to-lose items like stylus, consumables like battery, and cosmetic items like phone covers and protective cases are all vibrantly traded here. They are offered alongside of numerous mobile phones that are made more affordable.

Who do you think would buy extra batteries, and why? Some design decisions, intended or not, have the bigger impact on products’ lifecycle in the hands of people.

Bonus:
In the market – I noticed this universal battery charger, which was sold to me at 10 yuan (~1 UK pound). This charger can be adjusted to fit any type of popular mobile phone batteries. Recently we saw many nice ideas to reduce waste generated around charging, like a smarter charger to prevent overcharging or making a universal charger standard. I am not sure how safe this product is, but thought it’s quite a neat idea.

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