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Repairing electrical cooking appliances (Myanmar)

4th May 2022

By Nigel Scott and Melinda Barnard-Tallier, Gamos Ltd.

As electrical kitchen appliances become increasingly accessible and affordable to (predominantly urban) populations across low and middle income countries, so the volume of broken and discarded appliances will also increase. Aventura Research Myanmar (ARM) have recently completed a study on behalf of MECS that looks into what people do with broken appliances, and what happens with them at their end of life. The team conducted 12 in-depth interviews with repair shop owners as well as 9 representatives from appliance manufacturers and retailers, from the waste industry, and from government.

Most of these repair shops were small in size, and were owned or managed by one person operating out of their home, although some employed one or two assistants. Some started selling second-hand appliances to meet demand from low-income households, although this remains a small part of their business. The study found that technicians acquired their skills via three distinct channels, namely: from their father, from working in other shops, or self-taught by watching YouTube as well as their peers.

Many of the findings from the study relate in some way to the quality of appliances on the market. Most faults were attributed to poor product quality, but the quality of appliances available on the market is country specific. Lower income households tend to prioritise price over quality and buy lower-priced cooking appliances. Japanese products, for example, can cost twice as much as Chinese models. In Myanmar, western-imposed sanctions meant that cross-border trade with China and Thailand increased, and thus, the market has become dominated by low-cost Chinese products.

Little evidence was found of after-sale services for electric cooking appliances in Myanmar. In particular, Chinese appliances generally do not come with a warranty. Overall, people prefer to use repair shops rather than pursue manufacturers’ warranties.  Warranty services are generally poor because of long wait times, poor services, and poor availability of spare parts. On top of that, the cost of travel to the showroom is often higher than the cost of repairs at the neighbourhood repair shop. This also means that warranties are not an effective incentive to persuade customers to pay for higher quality appliances. Additionally, repair times are especially important for households that do not have additional appliances and rely heavily on a single appliance for cooking – they need to have it working again within a day.

Figure 2. Spare parts were largely salvaged from old appliances (image credit: Nay Chi (Aventura Research Myanmar, 2021)).

Most brands of electric cooking appliances in Myanmar do not sell spare parts. Even brand service centres do not keep spare parts; they order them from abroad, which can take weeks. This means that repair shops have to use spare parts they have salvaged themselves from unrepairable appliances, and parts they can buy from larger second hand dealers.

Electric rice cookers and redpots are the appliances that come in for repair most often. But these are also the most commonly used appliances, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are more prone to failure than other appliances. For repairing these appliances, spare parts account for approximately two thirds of the cost of the repair – the rest being labour. The cost of repairing these appliances is typically less than 10% of the cost of buying a new replacement, so there is a strong preference for repairing broken appliances.

Figure 3. Example of ‘redpot’ (image credit: Nay Chi (Aventura Research Myanmar, 2021)).

At end of life, appliances can pass through a mixture of formal and informal business. Cart buyers, or A Haung Wel Thu, are individuals who buy used goods from households and can then sell old electrical appliances on to repair shops. They can also buy unwanted appliances from repair shops and sell them on to a refurbishment centre or to aggregators. A refurbishment centre repairs used and discarded electronic items and gives them new life, while an aggregator is a person or business that specialises in collecting products for recycling, often selling them on to factories.

Whilst Myanmar has plenty of policies, laws and regulations on ewaste, these are poorly enforced. For example, there are no electronic disposal centres in Myanmar, so ewaste is currently disposed of in landfills. At the moment, ewaste is not regarded as a pressing problem, mainly because most people like to keep old and broken electronic devices at home. However, it is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the country due to increasing consumer demand, rapid advances in technology, the introduction of new electronic devices, and the availability of cheap imports, so action will need to be taken soon.


Featured image, Figure 1, top: Repair shops tended to be small, one-person businesses (image credit: Nay Chi (Aventura Research Myanmar, 2021)).