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The Fight to Repair - Prologue

This project is somewhat epic, spanning 3 months, 24,000 words, over 5 hours of interviews, site visits to universities and waste disposal centres, alike. But if you're in a hurry, this has been crunched down to just 15 tips to get you started.

As part of a series of articles, this one will focus on:

  • Cheat Sheet of Tips & Tricks. (Disclaimer - for discussion only)
  • Suggestions for Industry / Standardisation.
  • The 15 Key R2R Questions for Designers regarding Batteries.

Tips & Tricks to Design Better.
Distilling the Highlights.

Teardown of Judes headphones

Last week, I found myself saying 'goodbye' to a product I helped create as it tumbled into a colossal industrial shredder. It was oddly sobering and poignant to reflect on a hunk of plastic, metal and chemicals I had a hand in putting together.

Jude at recycling pnamt with Dyson

This is a picture of me, next to a part of a Dyson DC34 Vacuum Cleaner, (a product I helped design at Dyson shortly after I graduated in 2009). The handset is ready to be mechanically shredded, to reclaim different materials. However, before that, the battery will be easily removed - to prevent fires and harm to the environment, as well as reclaiming more precious metals.

Recycling plant

Each day, around 10 trucks like this shown (~14 tonnes each) are processed at the Sweeep Kuusakoski Ltd electrical waste processing plant. And yet this is only 30% of what we throw away every day… the other 70% of electrical goods are not collected, and at best are incinerated (and at worst dumped illegally).

How did I find myself visiting an electrical waste recycling centre? This all began with what I thought was a relatively simple idea to fix my headphones when the built-in battery seemed to have stopped charging correctly, which went on to become an ongoing project I did with RS Group plc on #righttorepair, now ready to be shared with the wider design/engineering community.

When I was working with Protolabs in 2020 on their Sustainability Webinar, we quoted a

Hashtag #DFMA statistic - that although a Designer's impact on 'cost' of a product is about 5%, their 'influence' is about 70% - meaning that if they made a poor choice on a material or process, it had a huge impact on the end product. Moreover, since then the Design Council estimates this to be closer to 80%.

Cost vs Influence graphic

It is a sobering visit for any designer to not just talk about 'end-of-life', but to see an actual product you worked on reach its 'end'. And yet, with over a decade's hindsight, there is so much one can do to extend the life-time of a product, as well as make it much more responsible when the inevitable time comes for recycling. Tips as simple as 'don't glue in the battery' seem staggeringly obvious, and yet are not as widespread as you'd hope. Complexities like 'balancing [potentially faulty] Li-Ion cells for longer battery life' remain elusive.

Tips, Provocations and Call-outs will be part of this 3-month investigation: I hope you'll join me on this weird, wonderful and hopefully inspiring adventure through product design, electronics and consumerism - and I hope it helps you design better products for the planet and repairability, and if not a product designer, then be a more informed and engaged business leader, policy maker, and consumer. Read on…


Up Next...

snapshot of episodes to come


Pre-Departure Notice - How an Attempt to Repair my Headphones Turned into a 3-Month Journey with a Grand Finale at the Recycling Centre.

Main Articles:
Intro   - The Fight to Repair with Jude Pullen, for RS DesignSpark.
Part 1 - LiPo Battery Basics, Headless Laptops & Safety First.
Part 2 - Returning to Hong Kong, My Design Conspiracy Theories and Meeting Dr Lawrence.
Part 3 - Falling in Love With The Problem of R2R, Looria, and Pre-Purchase Reparability Considerations.
Part 4 - Ken Pillonel’s Ingenious iPhone Hack, and Repairability as a Disruptor. 
Part 5 - Battery Post-Mortems with Andy Sinclair, Vapes, Dogmatism and Hacking My Headphones.
Part 6 - Legislation Loopholes, Eco Black Mirror, Chunky Fashion, and R2R Business Models and The Case for Standardisation.
Part 7 - Design, Engineering & Electronics Recommendations for R2R.

Part 8 - Visit to End of Life Processing Plant - SWEEEP Kuusakoski Ltd
Part 9 - Interviews with Industry Experts on Right to Repair.

Contact: If you have any other questions, or would like to collaborate, please get in touch (link).


Disclaimer: This series has been created for discussion purposes and is not a 'how to' guide. Jude Pullen is a chartered engineering professional, and has sought additional expert advice alongside his endeavours to explore this subject safely. For additional information please see DS Terms of Use

Winner of the 2020 Alastair Graham-Bryce "Imagineering" Award (IMechE), Jude thrives in high risk collaborations, uncertainty and pressure - drawing from global networks and experiences to deliver high profile campaigns and digital/physical products. A leading Creative Technologist & Physical Prototyping Expert, Jude has worked for NHS, Dyson, LEGO, and a number of start-ups. He is one of the eight featured inventors in BBC Two's Big Life Fix.