Let me tell you about my toaster. It is a stainless steel four slice Kenwoood model.

Its about 18 months old and, as I recall, cost about £45. As you can see it is quite chunky. The two toasting slots on the right stopped working about 6 months ago just as the guarantee ran out. My kids are currently going through a phase of wanting toast and not being able to produce 4 slices of toast, especially when I bought a four slice toaster, is somewhat frustrating and means I spend more time at the toaster than with my kids having breakfast.

Those of you who know me, can attest to the fact that I am reasonably handy around the house. I’d say I am good at DIY and, for example, put a kitchen into my last house. I’ve done rudimentary electrics and understand the core principles and concepts.

Combine this with our desire as a family to live more sustainably and the prospect of committing this hunk of steel and plastic to landfill wasn’t something I wanted to do. So I thought to myself last weekend – I’ll have a look at fixing the toaster. Normally when I try a new project I turn to the internet and browse some groups for advice. Well after about 20 mins of browsing it became clear that the general advice was don’t bother, buy a new one, its not worth the time, and its difficult to fix them because they are designed to be disposable!

And low and behold another 30 mins looking at the toaster revealed it would indeed be hard to get into it. And once inside would require “bodging” of spare parts with a consequent risk of further problems or fire. A repair would cost anywhere from £25 to £50 and isn’t guaranteed for more than three months.

This blog isn’t an eleborate appeal for a toaster expert to send me advice on the fixing of small electrical appliances. But rather it raised a series of questions for me.

Firstly, if toasters are designed to be disposable and have a relatively short shelf life, say 2 years, then that is a load of plastic, electrics and metal going to landfill every year. Magnify that with all the other types of small electrical appliances that it isn’t economic to fix then the volume of stuff going to landfill gets terrifying quickly. Secondly, why does my generation default “to throw it away and buy a new one”. My parents house is full of stuff that has been repaired and refurbished over the years.

Given the massive changes that we are seeing in our economy and the way that large swathes of the population (including my family) have changed their views about the environment and sustainable living I think the sustainability of purchases and how long they last could become new dimensions on which we can compete, differentiate and tap into new needs. Products and information sources which help consumers to refurbish or repurpose might be big in the future. For example, we fired up the barbeque (an old gas model) today for the first time this year and frankly the old girl is looking a bit rough. My gut reaction is to hit the net to see where my next barbeque is going to be purchased from. But actually I thought – could I give it a lick of some sort of paint and a good clean, change some parts and get a few more years use out of it rather than scrapping what is a lot of metal.

Businesses are benefiting from these changing attitudes. Swapping unwanted goods or second hand items through ebay is now mainstream. I’ve noticed Miele has recently been pushing 10 year guarantees on white goods, and Dualit, coming from a heritage as a supplier to commercial catering, provide spares and their products can be repaired. But a Dualit toaster costs £100+ – do you need to spend a lot to get something that can last? Surely with all the progress in manufacturing and product quality cheaper items can be manufactured to be repairable.

David Armano, in his marketing blog, has suggested that marketing is moving into a “post-consumer era” where more socially responsible decision making will be important driven by word of mouth. Its worth reading and thinking about.

I’d love to fix my toaster and move away from just “consuming” and “throwing away” to repairing, reusing and repurposing. Maybe I’m not alone.

Hope everyone had a great Easter. Go on leave a comment!