BRIGHT SPARKS: ENSURING A BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR BROKEN ELECTRONICS
By Matthew Elmas
E-waste recycling has taken on a whole new meaning in Melbourne’s North thanks to an innovative appliance repair operation that’s breathing new life into broken electronics and giving them to those in need.
Bright Sparks, which set up shop in August last year, is the brainchild of former newspaper editor Erin-Lewis Fitzgerald, who was inspired by an online video about a similar operation in the UK.
The company accepts electrical appliances – broken or working – from donation bins located throughout Melbourne’s North that would otherwise wind up in landfill and recycles them, either by repairing and reselling – or simply donating them to those in need.
Ms Fitzgerald is determined to address Melbourne’s e-waste problem and thanks to funding from the Victorian Government as well as a crowd funding initiative, she is now operating her Australian version of Bright Sparks through a trial period that ends in March.
“I loved that [Bright Sparks] tackled the electrical waste problem in a number of ways – repairs, donations and sales – and that it had a public profile rather than being a recycling business that’s not well known. I never would have thought of it on my own. It’s so much easier to revise an existing idea. I reuse everything, ideas included,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
Bright Sparks accepts most kitchen and household appliances via its donation bins, with slightly larger items such as microwaves and vacuum cleaners being accepted directly at its Hadfield HQ. However lawnmowers, electric stovetops, televisions and white goods such as fridges can’t be accepted.
Ms Fitzgerald has said that the community response to Bright Sparks has been “bonkers” and that they’ve temporarily had to stop taking repairs due to the large influx of customers they’ve had.
“We’ve had to stop accepting items for repairs (temporarily, we hope) because we’ve run out of room to store them… we didn’t anticipate the number of people who would love us.”
“Sometimes I’ll have a tough day and be ready to give it all up. Then I talk to a few customers – and our customers are the nicest, most delightful people in the world – and I change my mind. This happens a lot! Our supporters keep me going and remind me why I’m doing this,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
Bright Sparks also collects data on the appliances that come through, including the manufacturer name, item type, working status and even short stories about the items and their origins. It is hoped that this information will help to determine the size of the e-waste problem.
“One interesting thing I’ve noticed is more psychological – this idea of ‘this appliance isn’t quite good enough for me, but it should be good enough for someone else’.”
“We would usually recycle these items, but some donors are shocked when we tell them they will be recycled and not repaired and rehomed. We don’t judge whether someone chooses to pay us to repair a broken appliance, or they donate it and buy a new one. As long as it doesn’t go into landfill, we’re happy and we’ve done our job. Our focus is reuse and repair but we can’t save everything – we just don’t have the resources,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
Bright Sparks has thus far relied on government and crowd funding to keep its doors open, but even with the programs trial period coming to an end Ms Fitzgerald has big ideas for the future of the company.
“One idea is an appliance hiring library, where you could hire kitchen appliances, retro games consoles (e.g. Nintendo and Atari 2600), power tools, karaoke machines and anything else you might want to use once or twice but don’t need to store in your home all year. But we need funding to make Bright Sparks 2.0 happen. We also need to find a new, permanent location. If you have either, get in touch,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
For instructions on how to donate appliances to Bright Sparks, as well as the locations of their drop-off points, visit www.brightsparksaustralia.com
Matthew Elmas is a journalism student at La Trobe University. In his spare time he enjoys good books, great movies and thoughtful discussion. @mjelmas