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Why is it so hard to recycle or repair anything?

opening presents on Christmas morning Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The Christmas morning excitement about presents doesn't always last the week, let alone the year

It is not much more than a week since Christmas Day but how many of those toys that you bought and were received with so much joy are still being used?

Or did you get the latest piece of technology as your Christmas present - to replace the almost identical one that you got last year?

Why is almost everything these days so short-lived?

One of the best-selling toys this Christmas was the Hatchimal, just £59.99 for a cuddly toy that you have to encourage to hatch from its own plastic egg. Call me a cynic but I don't see that being the centre of many kids' world throughout all of 2017.

Image copyright Spin Master
Image caption How long will the Hatchimals remain a favourite?

Of course, if you are willing to spend that kind of money to give your children just what they want for Christmas, fair enough, but for environmental experts the real cost is more significant.

Such toys are often very hard to recycle, and a lot could be done to change that, says Margaret Bates, professor of sustainable waste management at Northampton University.

"Eighty per cent of waste is generated at the design stage, so if we can start thinking of the end of life when we are designing things we will get a much better recovery rate," she says.

"Just even using fewer screws or making sure that you keep materials separate, so that you can use plastic and metal but not stick them together."

Image copyright Design Museum
Image caption This TV could be repaired if it went wrong...

The technology even exists to go much further, adds Prof Bates: "There are also some clever things that you can do like putting things in the microwave or expose them to a special light source and all the fixtures and fittings will snap off, they just fall apart."

That, of course, makes recycling much easier.

The trouble is, not many toys or presents are designed that way, even some wrapping paper is not recyclable.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption ...but if this X-Box controller malfunctions, you might just throw it away

The trend away from repairing, recycling or reusing seems to be getting worse but it has been going on for years, according to Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum in London.

"Ever since the 1920s and an American advertising man called Elmo Calkins, who suggested it was the duty of the consumer to use stuff up to get us out of the [Great] Depression, there has been the concept of built-in obsolescence," he says.

And that obsolescence is getting more and more built in. Some new games consoles won't work with the games people already own. Or, take the smartphone - it has replaced many products like the camera, typewriter and Dictaphone.

But those items could last for decades. Some were even passed down from one generation to the next. Now, however, people replace their phones when one part breaks or a new model is released.

Image copyright iStock
Image caption The dictaphone grew a lot smaller than this 1945 model, but it has now been replaced by the smartphone

You can even see this on the High Street. TV and radio repair shops are a vanishing breed. Lawnmower maintenance ones are even rarer and camera shops are in serious decline.

But there is an exception that proves the rule - the explosion in the number of bicycle repair shops.

The reason is simple enough to understand: we are cycling more and the technology is pretty much the same as it has always been.

John Gallen should know - he repairs bikes at Cycle Surgery in central London. "Materials have changed. There are steel, carbon, aluminium, even bamboo bikes out there, but ultimately it is still the triangular frame, two wheels, handlebars and a set of pedals and off you go," he tells me.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The materials may have changed but the bicycle's shape is essentially the same as it was in the 1930s

But even that may be about to change with the new popularity of electric bikes. "We are moving down that road," says John. "The electric bikes are making their way into the market and with them you just plug the bike in to get the diagnostics."

It is possible to design and make things that last a long time, can be repaired or upgraded and then, finally, almost totally recycled, but that doesn't seem to be happening yet.

But it may be coming sooner than current trends suggest. Modern technology from toys to mobile phones and electric bikes is dependent on increasingly rare metals.

As Prof Bates explains: "There are limited amounts of those metals left, so we have to be much cleverer about how we keep them or we could be in danger of going back to the days when only very rich people had hi-tech goods, because it is so expensive to buy as those materials aren't out there."

Although you will, of course, always be able to get on your bike, so long as it is not electric. Perhaps one made from bamboo should be on your list for Santa next year?

You can hear Jonty Bloom's report on the PM programme on Tuesday, 3 January.

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