For Paul Anka, repair always seemed the obvious and only option. Growing up in Romania in the 1990s, he fondly remembers his grandfather’s workshop – a kind of hospital for rescuing inanimate objects, from cars to toasters. While the skateboards and toys they made together were probably more important to Anca in his childhood, his appreciation for fixing things has stood the test of time.
“I think it was just normal thinking back then. If something broke, you tried to fix it, and that’s not the norm these days,” says Anca. Today, through his company Open Funk, he is trying to restore his grandfather’s way of thinking, a way products are designed for longevity. It aims to change our relationship with hardware forever, to try and stop the world’s fastest growing household waste stream: electronic waste.
It is predicted that by 2030, the total amount of electronic waste will double that of 2014. Electronic devices contain toxic substances that can leach into the environment, and since most electronic waste is sent to developing countries with lax environmental regulations, it is the poorest societies most affected by this health burden. Similarly, mining for materials used in electronics has been linked to environmental damage and human rights violations – again in poorer countries.
The idea for Open Funk came about in 2018, when Anca met his co-founder, design engineer Ken Rostand, at a circular economy event in Berlin. In addition to their shared interest in sustainable supply chains, they realized they had something else in common: they both had broken blenders that they couldn’t fix. When they saw a pattern, they dug deeper.
“We asked for broken mixers from people on a Facebook group — and we were inundated with requests,” says Anca. They toured Berlin to collect the damaged blenders, take them apart, and determine why they weren’t working. Those discoveries formed the basis for the design process behind Open Funk’s first product: the re:Mix blender. The little box blender is almost like a puzzle, with several pieces that fit together – as easy to make as it is to take apart.
One of the main differences between re:Mix and other blenders is that it is open source, meaning anyone can find the blueprints to build one online. The rationale behind this is to make it as easy as possible for people to replace any part that could break. No matter how easy you make it for a layman to take his tool to a product, if he can’t find a replacement part, the task becomes impossible.
The use of commonly available parts is another important part of the design. For example, the button is standardized for music equipment and it is possible to use your own glass jars from the supermarket with the blender, as long as the opening has the correct diameter. Instead of using glue to bond parts together, they opted for screws. “Once you glue a product, you can’t take it apart and it’s just a waste of materials,” says Anca.