circular economy technology

A washing machine for a circular economy

I recently wrote about how France is investing in a culture of repair, as part of a broad shift towards a circular economy. New standards for repairability and durability will help to push manufacturers to improve the quality of their products, and one company has already been running with the idea.

L’Increvable – which translates as ‘the indestructible’ – is a start-up company that developed a new kind of washing machine. It is specifically intended as a sustainable appliance, and that includes a number of different design considerations.

First of all, as the name suggests, L’increvable is durable. The engineers have toured washing machine factories across Europe, learning what they can about how the appliances fail. They boldly state that they want their machines to last for 50 years.

When it does break down, it is designed to be easy to fix. That starts with access, and a front panel that can be removed without specialist tools. Once you’re inside, parts are modular and can be easily replaced. A website will sell spares and host video repair tutorials, and the idea is that owners will be able to do this themselves, rather than relying on professional repair services.

Because everything is modular, the machine can be upgraded. If the company develops a more efficient motor or drum, you’ll be able to swap it in. It will also be able to update its software. This is important, because if my washing machine was 50 years old, it would be 1970s technology. Upgrading allows for improvement and higher standards as the machine ages. Rather than becoming increasingly inefficient and obsolete, this is a machine that will get better over time.

One potential risk to a project like this is that if you’re building for serious long term durability, the resulting device might be beyond most people’s budgets. L’Increvable have a plan for that too. Like Ikea do with their furniture, they’re planning to make assembly simple enough that they can sell the washing machine as a kit.

This would save the huge expense of running an assembly plant. And besides, if customers had built the machine themselves when it was new, they’d have a better understanding of how to fix or upgrade it.

Before anyone leaps to the comments to protest that they don’t want to build their own washing machine – that’s fine. Get whatever washing machine you want. Not everyone wants to build their own wardrobes either, and that hasn’t stopped Ikea becoming the world’s biggest furniture retailer. For me, this sounds like a promising solution, and I hope to hear more about new design approaches like L’Increvable.

I may be waiting a while. Unfortunately, and before we get too excited, the latest entry on the website suggests the project is currently on ice. It hasn’t found the partnerships to take it to commercial scale yet. But whether or not this particular project ever finds a market, it’s a groundbreaking model for future appliances.

One last note – L’Increvable’s prototype was included in an exhibition in Belgium on design and the limits to growth. Some people imagine a postgrowth future to be a low-tech one where everyone has to go back to doing their laundry by hand. I’m with the Belgian curators on this one, and I think this is a good example of what a degrowth technology might look like.

7 comments

  1. Sounds an excellent move. Mind you, you can still buy a few cars as a kit and build them yourself…though that has never become mainstream!

    1. I’d put my laundry in a washing machine I had built myself, but I wouldn’t put my family in a car I built myself! It feels like you’d need an engineering degree to do that properly…

  2. Love it! I have replaced bearings and pumps and would love to fit all parts together. Have a photo of me from inside the machine with a face of terror called ‘wash day blues’! I hope they include the old-style hot water fill and that you can replace seals and other small parts rather than a complete and larger component.

  3. Forgot to say my old Philips (original) lasted 40 years but fascia etc broke, rust set in and it needed new parts so was time to replace it. Great buy in those days of 40 odd years ago.

  4. Yes, machines were more durable in the past. My family shipped a Zanussi machine to Madagascar, where it ran for decades. New ones have more to go wrong on them as well, and things that your average person couldn’t fix, like the electronics.

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