What is the solution?
The solution is to buy items that are repairable and have them repaired, either internally or externally, by making sure that items can actually be repaired locally, e.g. by establishing service contracts with local repair shops.
This solution applies to items such as stoves, shelter material and lamps. A dedicated factsheet will cover the topic of buying used, repaired and remanufactured items.
What are the gains?
The reduction potential of buying repairable items – and repairing them – can be substantial. By prolonging the lifetime of items, emissions from raw material and the manufacturing process are avoided. For key items, it is recommended to perform a comparative life-cycle analysis, between the currently used product and a repairable option, to be able to take an informed decision.
In addition to a reduced carbon footprint, the solution offers a range of additional benefits, notably, addressing the growing (e-)waste problem. By using local repair services, the solution also supports local livelihoods and creates job opportunities.
Is it easy to implement?
Requesting suppliers that the item is repairable and that spare parts are made available for a certain period of time is relatively easy to implement.
Repairing items requires specific expertise, which makes internal repair within the organization often delicate. External repairs are generally easier.
To enable repair, sourcing teams must consider the repair phase of the item in contractual agreements. It will largely depend on the local context if the repair and remanufacturing of distributed non-food items, such as cooking stoves, tarpaulins and shelters, is easy to implement. By working with local suppliers, it is often easier to integrate repair services directly in the contract. Alternatively, buyers can work through service contracts to procure local repair services. A pilot with a key item in a location where a local repair shop already exists can be a good start.
Key implementation points
It is important that the same levels of quality, safety standards and compliance with environmental regulation are maintained for repaired items. This should be part of the contractual agreements with suppliers or service providers.
#1 Identify suitable products
Identify for which products repairable options exist.
#2 Set a goal
Set an ambitious goal for items to be repaired.
#3 Add contract clauses
Add contract clauses requiring products to be durable, easy to disassemble and to repair, as well as ensuring availability of spare sparts for a certain amount of time.
#4 Make sure repairing is possible
Request suppliers to provide a repair manual and a list of spare parts.
#5 Check local repair capacity
Ensure local repair capacity is available, either through the supplier, through local businesses or a local service provider.
#6 Collect un-repairable items
Require suppliers to take back items or organise the local re-collection of items that are damaged or not repairable anymore.
- Reducing resource use
- Creating local business and employment opportunities
- Local repair capabilities available or put in place
Prerequisites & specificities
- Items need to be durable and designed to allow for repair (include this in the contract)
- Potential costs for repair
Point of attention
Point of attention
Transportation logistics can have a major impact on the net benefits of repair (up to 20% for the laptop example). (4)
IOM: Tackling solar waste in a refugee camp
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and partners have formally launched a project to transform management of solar electronic waste in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, situated in Uganda’s north-western region. The project “Greening Humanitarian Responses Through Recovery, Repair, And Recycling of Solar Products in Displacement Settings” seeks to give new life to disused solar lanterns and batteries, whilst creating jobs, supporting livelihoods, and providing business opportunities for refugees and host communities. (5)
University of Edinburgh: Modular and repairable solar products
A research team at the University of Edinburgh developed “SolarWhat?!”, a modular and repairable product. SolarWhat?! aims to extend the lifecycle of solar products by addressing repairability and compatibility challenges through design. The team developed two devices: a pocket-sized rechargeable torch and an adaptor unit that can be connected to a solar panel to charge other devices as well as providing light. To facilitate user adaptations and repairability, each device comprises three sections held together by easily-removable screws. (6)
UNHCR: Sourcing target for repaired or recycled solar lamps
UNHCR has set the goal of 50% of solar lamps being repaired or recycled in 12 operations and will identify opportunities for recycling and repurposing of emergency shelter materials. (7)
Solvoz Foundation: Repairability as a sourcing criteria
Solvoz Foundation offers an online catalogue of items for the humanitarian sector with an integrated procurement workflow. Sustainability criteria are already integrated for a number of items (such as repairability of solar lanterns) and can be selected by buyers according to their sourcing strategy. Service contracts for repair can also be procured via the platform. (8)
Rather than focus on absent or non-existent recycling facilities, we argue that sustainable pathways to energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa hinge on the willingness of the solar industry to acknowledge and engage with an existent, vibrant and diverse repair economy.
Tools and good practices
Ellen MacArthur Foundation: Circular Economy Procurement Framework.
The circular procurement framework provides an overview of the intervention points organisations can use to make their purchasing choices more circular and engage their suppliers in circular economy conversations and collaborative circular partnerships.Check here
GOGLA, E-waste Toolkit Module 2 Briefing Note, Design for Reduction of Waste
The briefing note identifies strategies and tools to reduce waste in the off-grid solar sector, including: Circular business model strategy games & KPIs, waste hierarchy, off-grid solar scorecard, indicators for recyclability, repairability and spare parts, design for sustainability frameworkRead here
Solvoz Foundation, Service contract: repair shop for solar lanterns, including further guidance
Solvoz Foundation, Service contract: repair shop for solar lanterns, including further guidanceCheck here
To go further
Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Completing the Picture. How the Circular Economy tackles Climate Change, 2021
A report that outlines how the circular economy has a major role to play in meeting climate targets. It provides a wealth of facts and figures.Read here
European Union, European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform
A platform on the circular economy with information on financing opportunities, good practices and tools.Check here
Jamie Cross, Declan Murray, The afterlives of solar power: Waste and repair off the grid in Kenya, Energy Research & Social Science, 2018
A research paper that explores the issue of end-of-life treatment of solar waste in Sub Saharan Africa from a socio-cultural perspective and makes the case for implementing re-use and repair solutions.Read here
A generic term covering all operations where a product is put back into service, essentially in the same form, with or without repair or remediation.
Returning a used product to a satisfactory working condition by rebuilding or repairing components.
Returning a used product to at least its original performance. Remanufacturers often take the opportunity to upgrade the products to current performance standard (10).
(1) Lighting Global et. al., Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2020, 2020. Read here
(2) Jamie Cross and Declan Murray, The afterlives of solar power: Waste and repair off the grid in Kenya, 2018. Read here
(3) Oakdene Hollins, Executive Summary: An assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions and waste impacts from improving the repairability of Microsoft devices, 2022. Read here
(4) Oakdene Hollins, Executive Summary: An assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions and waste impacts from improving the repairability of Microsoft devices, 2022. Read here
(5) IOM, Uganda’s Largest Refugee Settlement Set to Benefit from IOM’s Electronic Waste Management Project, 2022. Read here
(6) The University of Edinburg/Edinburg innovation, Solar what? Read here
(7) UNHCR, Operational Strategy for Climate Resilience and Environmental Sustainability 2022-2025, 2021. Read here
(8) Solvoz, Solar Lantern Solutions Guidance, v1.1, 2022. Read here
(9) Jamie Cross, Declan MurrayJamie Cross, Declan Murray, The afterlives of solar power: Waste and repair off the grid in Kenya, Energy Research & Social Science, 2018. Read here
(10) Zero Waste Scotland, Procuring for: Repair, Re-use and Remanufacturing. Category and Commodity Guidance, 2016. Read here
Cover photo © Clint Bustrillos/Unsplash.