A huge mountain of electronic waste accumulates every year in Europe alone. Whether smartphone, electric toothbrush or PC: what is broken or old quickly ends up in the trash.

Consumer Protection Minister Steffi Lemke therefore promotes the “right to compensation” provided for by the coalition. “Before, we could repair,” says Annette Kehnel. These days, however, we throw away more than we fix. Kehnel is professor of medieval history at the University of Mannheim and author of the book “We could do it differently too. A short history of sustainability”.

“Historically, repairing and recycling was a crucial cultural technique and a success factor for people,” Kehnel explains. Our ancestors were much smarter on this point. “What we are doing today is completely irrational,” said the professor.

Repair was an economic necessity

The big problem is that repairs are often more expensive these days than buying a new device. This phenomenon did not appear until the middle of the 20th century. Suddenly, “moments of becoming unusable” were built into a device, Kehnel explains.

This means that parts are intentionally built in that wear out and break quickly, so customers have to buy a new device after a short time.

“We are inundated with cheap scrap metal and the goal is that the economy is doing well, and consumers are doing well is number two,” Kehnel said.

Nonetheless, she is convinced that the current growth-oriented economic model can change again. However, this does not happen on its own, which is why Kehnel finds the “right to repair” important. You have to create incentives and they can be regulated by laws.

Annette Kehnel: “We could do otherwise. A short history of sustainable development ”
Blessing Verlag, 2021 Munich
488 pages, 24 euros