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3 October 2023

The first step to keeping e-waste out of landfill? Make products repairable

Consumer NZ has discovered an American company selling heart-rate monitors that shows a shameless disregard for the environmental crisis.

When Ruairi O’Shea, an investigative writer at Consumer NZ received a Tickr heart-rate monitor from American company Wahoo, he didn’t expect to cycle through three replacements in an 18-month period.

“My heart-rate monitor broke three times in a year and a half, and Wahoo replaced it for me every time” says O’Shea.

Tickr’s terrible timeline

  • December 2021 – Tickr #1 gifted on Christmas
  • April 2022 – Tickr #1 broke (data flat-lined)
  • April 2022 - Tickr #2 arrived
  • April 2022 – Tickr #2 broke (battery enclosure flooded)
  • April 2022 – Tickr #3 arrived
  • May 2023 – Tickr #3 broke
  • May 2023 – Tickr #4 arrived

"It seems I'm not alone in this experience, with a number of internet forums describing a pattern of faulty devices that are quickly replaced by Wahoo.

"At first, Wahoo's customer service was a breath of fresh air, and I was delighted with the ease of receiving my first replacement. But as my devices repeatedly broke, I recognised this for what it was – a big waste of resources. Now I’ve got three heart-rate monitors that are destined for landfill.

“To make matters worse, Wahoo's website claims to ‘ensure waste is recycled and reused where possible to help lessen our environmental impact’, yet not once has the company attempted to recover, recycle or reuse the leftover parts of my heart-rate monitors.”

When asked for comment, a Wahoo spokesperson said, “Wahoo has a high focus on customer satisfaction and making sure we support our athletes with first class customer service.”

O’Shea feels less than satisfied with his experience.

“Repeatedly engaging with customer service to replace heart rate monitors is not my idea of a good time. It’s also devastating to realise the company is essentially encouraging you to engage in environmentally destructive practices.

“This kind of conduct is unacceptable in a climate crisis,” says O’Shea.

E-waste is the fastest growing waste source in the world – a repairability label will help slow it down

Paul Smith, product test manager at Consumer is frustrated that New Zealand is the only country in the OECD without e-waste regulations. Smith, along with the other 14,805 people who've signed the watchdog's petition, want a mandatory product repairability label.

“People don’t dump their appliances in landfill because they want to. They dump appliances because they’re too complicated, expensive or impossible to repair. Without the option for repairability, there’s nowhere else for their broken toaster, fridge, or heart rate monitor to go.

“That’s why we’re urgently calling for a repairability label. If people can make purchases based on how long products will last and how repairable they are, manufacturers will be forced to up their game, and we can slow down the growth of e-waste.”

Broken heart-rate monitors just another example of a broken industry

Computer Recycling, an e-waste disposal center in Auckland, explains that electronics in landfill are responsible for 70% of the world’s toxic waste, and the raw materials contained in the world’s discarded e-waste are worth USD$62.5 billion annually¹.

New Zealanders alone throw an estimated 97,000 tonnes of unwanted or broken electric waste into landfill every year².

“To put that into perspective, imagine that all New Zealand’s e-waste for a year consisted of Breville four-slice toasters. Neatly stacked, 97,000 tonnes would fill the entire Eden Park turf up to the height of the tallest grandstand. The remaining 2 million toasters would fill up all 60 floors of the Sky Tower,” says Smith.

“If we force manufacturers to include repairability labels, they will create products that last. It's better for our pockets, for people and the planet.”

July results from Consumer's quarterly sentiment survey show that sustainability continues to matter to people.

“New Zealanders are concerned about our environment, but it can feel hard to know what to do to make a tangible difference,” says Smith.

Making products repairable would be a great start.

“Making durable products should be easier for manufacturers than making easy-to-break ones. It’s baffling that we don’t have a better handle on this.”

Sign our petition to demand a repairability label

In the same way that energy star ratings tell you how efficient a product is to use, a repairability label tells you how easy a product is to repair.

The label gives products a score based on: 

  • whether repair documentation is available for independent repairers and/or consumers
  • how easy it is to disassemble the product
  • availability of spare parts
  • price of spare parts
  • any other criteria specific to the product type.

Consumer is calling for New Zealanders to demand that retailers lift their game.

“Please sign our petition and demand a mandatory repairability label. Once we receive 15,000 signatures, we will present to parliament.”