We tracked returned small appliances and found some go straight to the dump
What happens when you take faulty items back to the store?
We launched an investigation to find out what happens to nearly new, but faulty, small appliances. Many appliances, such as mixers, blenders and toasters, are now sold with no repair advice and no spare parts available, making a longer lifespan challenging. We found some returned appliances are sent straight to the dump.
Purchasing benchtop mixers from Wellington branches of Kmart, The Warehouse, Briscoes and Farmers, the Consumer testing team created easy-to-fix faults by removing a power wire from the control board. Tracking devices were then placed in each of the mixers and they were returned to the store of purchase.
At Kmart and The Warehouse, neither sales assistant opened the box for the $80 mixers, and a refund was offered. At Kmart, the person processing the return told the incognito Consumer team “we just throw faulty stuff in the bin”. At Briscoes, the sales assistant told the team a Breville rep would take a look and “not to worry, it won’t just get thrown in the landfill”.
The $740 Kenwood mixer purchased from Farmers broke upon second use, before the Consumer test team was able to tamper with it. It started emitting noises that sounded like agricultural machinery. At Farmers, the Kenwood was unboxed and turned on. A replacement Kenwood was provided.
Following the mixers
Tracking appliances is not a short game. It took approximately four months for all benchtop mixers to find their final resting place. The Warehouse mixer made a swift trip, with a stop or two at Seaview, before meeting its final resting place in Silverstream landfill. The Kmart mixer from Petone took a similar trip, going straight to the landfill.
The Briscoes Breville mixer spent four weeks moving around the store, before heading to Auckland. Thankfully it didn’t meet the same fate as the Kmart and Warehouse mixers. It began a new life at Appliance Outlet, a reseller of used and refurbished appliances.
The Kenwood spent a month moving around the Farmers store until it travelled to Auckland too. It ended up in a logistics warehouse close to Auckland Airport, before its final destination at an e-waste recycler.
“A manufacturer’s business is to sell new appliances,” said Paul Smith, head of testing at Consumer. “They don’t want the inconvenience of dealing with those appliances when they are unwanted and unbroken.
“Providing for repair is too difficult, or too costly, so they have two options – throw them into landfill or pay someone else to deal with it. Landfill is the cheapest option, but we don’t think it’s acceptable.
“We now live in a world where nearly new appliances, and all the embedded resources contained in them, can be thrown straight into a hole in the ground at the first sign of fault. New Zealand has one of the highest per capita e-waste per person in the world and we’re the only country in the OECD without a national e-waste scheme. Something needs to change.”
We are working to launch a Right to Repair campaign in the upcoming months, pushing for the repair and refurbishment of newer appliances to be more viable. Manufacturers would need to provide spare parts and repair instructions, as well as durability labelling at the point of sale, which would enable consumers to make informed choices about the product they are purchasing.
Response from retailers
The Warehouse pushes its sustainability messaging hard. It is “sustainable and affordable” and “here for good”. Consumer asked The Warehouse about its mixer going straight to landfill and received this response: “We’re investigating this incident further and reviewing our processes as in this case, we haven’t got it right, as this item may have been able to be repaired or recycled.”
Breville said: “We do seek to repair and refurbish faulty products wherever possible and [we’re] happy to hear that you’re having a positive experience with our brand in this regard.”
Kmart failed to respond despite multiple attempts to make contact.
DēLonghi Group (Kenwood) failed to respond despite multiple attempts to make contact.