Ugo Vallauri From Restart Project

An interview with Ugo Vallauri, Co-Founder of the Restart Project

We’ve just announced that eSpares is now an official sponsor of The Restart Project! We couldn’t be more proud to team up with this charitable organisation who aims to make fixing appliances, electricals and IT gadgets easier and more accessible.

Their mission is closely aligned with ours to encourage a repair not replace mentality so we are super excited to see what the coming months will bring.

To find out more about The Restart Project and how eSpares can support them, we caught up with one of the founders of the organisation, Ugo Vallauri. Read on to find out more about how it all began, the fantastic work they do and what they plan to do next with eSpares by their side!

To begin, can you tell us a little more about The Restart Project and your mission?

The Restart Project is a London based charity that aims to fix our relationship with electronics and campaigns for our Right to Repair. Since 2012, we have run regular community repair events where people bring their broken or faulty electricals along and get help with fixing them. We call these ‘Restart Parties’. We also support groups doing similar events around the UK and globally.

What is special about us, is that we concentrate on small electricals and electronic products because of the strong environmental impact of these items. Our approach is to empower as many people as possible to extend the life of the products they already own via repair and reuse. We are deeply involved in the Right to Repair movement in the UK and are a co-founder of the European Right to Repair campaign too.

So how did it all begin?

Having worked in international development in countries such as Kenya and Brazil, my co-founder, Janet Gunter and I, experienced a different approach to how people use and re-use products for as long as possible. It made us really think about how the throw-away economy in the UK and Europe is pushing us in the wrong direction so we wanted to offer a positive solution. That’s when we set up the Restart Parties!

Two Men Repairing Together

During these events, our volunteers were the ones who inspired us to continue to do more! We found extremely skilled individuals who could repair more items than we thought was possible and they wanted to think deeper and beyond just repairing in communities. So, from there, we began to expand and really promote the message around the UK, Europe and beyond!

What would you say is your proudest achievement to date?

The proudest achievement for us is that we have managed to build wider networks that connect in different ways. Organisations working broadly in this area are now communicating and sharing more openly about the problems we experience but also the solutions. For example, we held a FixFest a few years ago which was the first global gathering of activists and this led to the first edition of International Repair Day and then to a European-wide Right to Repair campaign. This makes us really proud.

If we look back at many of our initial ideas, they keep on turning into reality! We had a big vision early on but back then, we were unable to push it forward. Today that has all changed and it just keeps growing. We didn’t expect that we would succeed in becoming such a credible organisation and be able to influence legislation on how products should be designed and what level of access people should have to repair manuals and spare parts. It’s great that this has now come into place, but we’re still in the early days of the change we are aiming for, if we want to provide a real solution to the climate crisis. We just want the demands of the repair community to be listened to with really ambitious regulations.

How much of a need for repairing do you think exists?

A recent YouGov poll that we commissioned in Great Britain showed that 81% of the people polled supported an extension of the Right to Repair regulations for electronics! The poll also told us that 30% of Britons who threw away or replaced a broken electronic device only did so after being unable to repair it themselves, or because the professional repair was either too expensive or impossible. This shows there is a huge need for so much more to be done. We’re not trying to compete with a thriving repair economy. Our push for better regulations is so that repair businesses and professional repairers can thrive in their activities too.

Hands Repairing Fridge

I truly believe that most people that throw items away, do so not because they want to, but because the barriers in the current system push them away from repairing. With Right to Repair, we’re trying to make repairs affordable, accessible and a default option for everyone for every product.

How can people help?

We currently have a petition to the UK government asking for a real Right to Repair. This has come on the back of the government announcing that it would follow the European regulations on bringing some initial level of repairability to white goods such as fridges, washing machines, dishwashers and TVs. There are, however, a lot of limitations in the current approach. These include most spares and information only being available to repair professionals, a high cost of spares remaining and it doesn’t include products such as electronics and smartphones. This doesn’t give us a right to repair. The petition is currently beyond 3000 signatures which is a great start but we would like as many people as possible to get behind this and help us spread the word.

What advice would you give someone who wants to do their bit to avoid e-waste but isn’t sure how to start?

One of the big lessons, valid across all devices, is maintenance. This can prevent your items from breaking. For instance, cleaning the filter of your washing machine or ensuring that you top up the salt dispenser of your dishwasher can make a huge difference in making it last longer and preventing faults.

The second is to think twice before buying a new product and consider repairing the one you have. A great way to start is by attending one of our Restart Parties. In the case that you really need to upgrade, make sure you donate or resell the product you have, so it gets reused. Reusing should always come before recycling a product.  On The Restart Project website, you can see a list of community reuse organisations that can make the most of the laptop, smartphone or tablet you no longer need.

On that note, how can the sponsorship of eSpares help The Restart Project achieve its mission?

Restart Project And Espares Logo

We’re very excited about this partnership! We see the work that eSpares is doing in making it easier for people to choose the right spare part and encouraging people, when possible, to fix it themselves. We also love that eSpares doesn’t just provide the spares for a repair but also creates videos to show everyone how to do this, making repairs accessible to all. This is very much in line with what we are trying to do.

Encouraging people to repair their household appliances will also make them think about other items the next time they break and look at their belongings differently. We want to see a world where people can choose from multiple options for getting products repaired and we believe eSpares can help us achieve this!

What plans do you have for the future?

Part of our work in terms of campaigning concerns what we see happening at a UK level and the other part is pushing for regulations at a European level. We are currently working on regulations for smartphone and tablet repairability and are making great steps in the right direction.

Coming up, we see a lot of potential for better regulation on batteries. This is an interesting topic because every product that we use has a battery and these can be very hard to replace. We will be campaigning on making battery replaceability a key issue for all kinds of electricals. We’re very excited about this and hope it will provide some useful impact in the UK as well as Europe. We look forward to 2022 and have some exciting projects that will be announced soon to bring repair to new places.

Finally, can you tell us about a time that you have repaired something yourself?

I have repaired many things and have failed many times too! It’s important to fail too as you learn how to do it better next time and recognise your limits. I once repaired my phone myself by replacing the screen and while doing so, I learned to take better care of it! I also once enjoyed fixing the cutlery basket in my dishwasher. The moment you repair something yourself is the moment that it truly becomes yours and you understand how it works. You also realise how its design makes it particularly hard to repair and that there has to be a better way.

That’s what’s exciting about our repair events. People experience first-hand what some of the barriers are and that some repairs are successful and some aren’t. They learn a whole lot about why we are campaigning for this too. Solutions already exist but we need to urgently fix the system so that it requires manufacturers to put products on the market that are completely reusable and repairable.

Find out more about The Restart Project and the work that they do by visiting their website. Or if you’ve been inspired to fix an appliance niggle right away, head over to our Advice Centre to help you get started!

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