The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

March 22, 2010

Cheap Plastic Scale: No Serviceable Parts

Thinner digital scale“No Serviceable Parts.” That’s what is says on the back of my digital scale. The one I use to measure ingredients for my homemade cat food. The one I use to measure the weight of my collected plastic each month. So, when it broke, it wasn’t like I could just do without it. And I didn’t really want to find a used scale because I wasn’t sure a used one would measure precisely enough. Plus, I couldn’t find one on Craigslist or Freecycle.

Thinner digital scale

But first, I did everything I could to figure out how to get it repaired instead of running out and automatically buying a new one. First I called the company from which I bought the scale. I won’t tell you which company it was, because it’s a small business that doesn’t even sell scales anymore. When I called, I got the actual owner who said something like, “These freaking environmentalists have really done a snow job on you. There is absolutely no problem with tossing this thing in the landfill.”


So I tried to find the company that makes Thinner digital scales. Unfortunately, they had sold that portion of the business to Conair, which doesn’t make these scales anymore. No luck there.

Undaunted, I used Craigslist to try and find someone to fix it. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if someone could actually repair this scale with “No Serviceable Parts.” This piece of electronic equipment, like so many of our electronics these days, that is meant to be simply thrown away instead of fixed.

And I DID find a guy who thought he could fix it! Chuck Cotner took it home with him and worked diligently on it. In fact, he wrote me a comprehensive explanation of all the steps he took to test it and repair it. He also made a valiant effort to contact Conair for help, to no avail. I don’t understand most of what he wrote. Maybe you do.

battery’s good, mechanics (transducer – “strain gage” – assembly) is intact, and signal exists on the properly-connected wiring. Inquiry about controller, with putative “inheritor” (NOT Conair) yields no response yet.

And then,

Efforts @ refurb’ing the controller have changed the response but not reversed the failure, & componentry is sandwiched under/over ea other on the assembly. Controller replacement is dictated – I’ve been angling for response fm, who, according to our mfg. has taken over the line; all efforts @ contact (email, phone) have been unproductive thus far . .


I’ve taken maintenance-type efforts (cleaning) one layer beyond my last description – down to the epoxy-encapsulated controller ASIC (special-purpose integrated circuit), with no further change in behavior – power-on 1st lights up all display segments, then apparently “tares”, yet is unresponsive to any weight applied, finally shuts off after a few sec. This with NO appreciable drop (20 mV – display test) in battery voltage. (‘scuze me fer talkin’ tech . . )

My phone efforts have just led back to Conair/Cuisinart, where I am given nothing of substance (one staffer offered only to take my contact for “someone” to get back to me) . .

So, despite the admirability of your (our?) motives, I don’t see getting this functional again.

So that’s it. I didn’t think I could go much further, so after getting it back from Chuck (all put back together nicely but still not working) I took it apart again myself and put the plastic pieces into my plastic collection for March.

Thinner digital scale

The screws I can reuse. No sure what to do with the battery since apparently it’s still good. Or the board and metal pieces. I’ll have to figure it out.

And so I bought a new scale. Perhaps it can be repaired if/when it breaks. I do know that the battery, at least, can be replaced. This one is an Escali. And I chose it, in part, because it had the least plastic package. And the top is stainless steel.

Escali digital scale

Just another example of a product meant to be wasted. It’s the Story of Stuff, isn’t it?

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13 years ago

One solution, though cumbersome, is to use a balance scale or a spring scale (like they have in the grocery store…if you could find one that was precise). You can probably find one made of metal…the ones we used to use in school were so I’d try lab supply companies. Or, you could make your own! That would be very fun! My dad has an old set of brass weights that were used in just such a scale maybe 75-100 years ago. The antique weights are not going to be perfectly true to weight any more but they’ll be off by grams, I think, not ounces.

13 years ago

I think that the throw-away lifestyle that we have adopted is the biggest flaw in today’s society. Not only are products practically made to break, but they’re also made to be unfixable. This practice of making products that can’t be fixed is no better than our overuse on disposable commodities, like water bottles and paper plates. We certainly live in a time where there is enough knowledge and technology to fix these problems, but unfortunately, the manufacturers have their eyes on the profit, and nothing makes more profit than making you buy new stuff.

Condo Blues
13 years ago

I agree with Fate, it sounds like something on the ‘board failed. With our desire to have smaller and more accurate electronics it depends upon making circuit boards to power those items. As it stands now, it is difficult and expense to repair a circut board. It is cheaper and easier to replace it which leads to our throwaway culture – weather you want to throw away a broken item or not.

13 years ago

@ak look carefully – many of the triple beam balance scales have a plastic base. Of course, they won’t wear out like a digital scale.

13 years ago

Did you explain to that guy that you ARE the environmentalist? It is so frustrating when people have that kind of attitude.
Don’t worry, for every one of those guys, you have one of us trying extra hard to do our part.

13 years ago

Linda – I had a similar experience with Sears! Nearly new dryer stopped working – they wanted more than the price of the dryer to fix it. Luckily my husband looked online and found tons of people writing about how they had the same problem and how to fix it…
I don’t trust Sears…

13 years ago

I had an old rusty scale and meat slicer that I sold on Ebay for 144 dollars, was glad they were going to be used but took a lot of cardboard and tape to send. Any way I was very sad to be in a dollor store today and realize everything pretty much was plastic from China, and people were buying up all kinds of junk and of course plastic bags at the counter. I got right out of there. I am going to be a dad in Nov, and am determined not to buy plastic toys, but its hard, I want to use cloth diapers but getting lots of static on that one. Your blog is great Beth, keep it going!!

13 years ago

Mr. Harrumph needs a landfill in his backyard.

Isle Dance
13 years ago

Great effort…no fun though, I know. And unbelievable, the responses!

13 years ago

Definitely keep the battery (or put on Freecycle) – those are in watches and tons of electronics. Make sure to recycle the circuit board – it’s easy to find collectors for e-waste on And you can probably list the metal on Freecycle or Craigs List too – there are always people on Freecycle asking for scrap metal.

13 years ago

Hang on to the battery. It looks like the kind that is commonly used in PC’s to keep the date/time alive and other devices like the one you had.

As for the screws, I recall my father had many many Mason jars filled with nuts and bolts and screws. I never saw him dig into his treasure trove. Funny, we want to keep things but at the same time we don’t.

We have a body scale that is sealed but battery powered. So, once the battery goes, it goes too. Seems like they could have put in a solar cell that would work from room light. They’ve done that with calculators.

LInda Anderson
13 years ago

This reminds me of my trouble getting a Kenmore stove fixed. The button that raises the temperature of the oven broke because it is plastic. The Kenmore repair man would not lift up the ceramic top because it might break. I don’t know why he bothered to come to my house because he was not going to fix it. He or Sears or someone expected me to buy a new stove/oven – because of a PLASTIC BUTTON! I was furious and eventually found someone to fix it.

13 years ago

aw, too bad you already bought the new one! cause there’s always this type of scale:

..which usually doesn’t have any plastic at all. the key would be finding it without plastic packaging, is all.

13 years ago

Hurrumph, indeed! The guy clearly did not realize where you were coming from.

I hope that your new scale has a long, long life.

13 years ago

I’m with AJP – not electronic and so not likely to break on me. I love old postal scales, general store scales, baby weighing scales, etc. I found an old postal scale in a back room at work that they were going to throw away. The scale is all metal except for the printed plastic display on the front with the measurements and postage rates on it. The scale meaures up to 5 or 10 pounds, can’t remember which, and I can easily calibrate it.

I admire the lengths you went to in the attempt to fix it. When small electronics break I get so frustrated that our world has made obsolete the great old guys who used to fix things like toasters, vaccuums, etc. Nowadays you can’t even find find someone willing to try and fix something, and if you do, the parts aren’t available. Next time I’ll try Craigslist for an able fixer.

shona~LALA dex press
13 years ago

Last year I bought an old popcorn tin at a thrift store for .49 for the specific purpose to be a collecting receptacle for random metal pieces that come from stripped screws, odds + ends we find + more specifically bits of metal that come off of items that are not serviceable. I will tear apart a non-working item in order to get to the metal so that I’m not throwing it all into the trash. We are currently having to replace all the outlets in our house, lots of metal parts. ANYWAY, when the tin is full it will go to the scrap metal yard in town.

13 years ago

Re: metal parts.

Put them up on craigslist or freecycle and see if anyone involved in steampunk or dieselpunk are interested in using them in projects.

13 years ago

I bought a scale recently and purposefully didn’t buy anything electronic because a simple spring based scale won’t have any circuitry problems, failed batteries or anything of that sort. Of course, it’s not as accurate.

I hate buying things that can’t be fixed, or, worse, void the warranty if I try to fix myself.

The Green Cat
13 years ago

Put the battery up on Craigslist or Freecycle. Since it’s still good, perhaps someone else can use it for another device.

13 years ago

Why get another digital scale?
Why not measure your cat food by volume?

Sarah B
13 years ago

So, speaking of cat food… I was very inspired by your post about making your own kitty chow, so I got recipes made for each of my cats, bought the supplement, and headed off to Whole Foods with my stainless steel container. I was told that here in CT, it’s against health code to use your own container at the meat counter! I offered all sorts of logical arguments (put my container in your sanitizer, WF in California lets you, etc…) to no avail.

The meat counter clerk said the normal WF line about “purchasing offsets,” and I asked him how that would help the plastic wrapper that will still be around 1,000 years from now. I think I was annoying him. As soon as I said, “In California…,” he rolled his eyes and said, “They’re COMPLETELY different. Marijuana is legal there!” Anyway, I took the turkey, wrapped in paper (which I discovered at home is really plastic-coated – I never buy meat, so this was an education) and asked again at the manager’s desk. They told me exactly the same thing.

Having once managed a restaurant, I understand that you can’t mess with health code violations, but I would like to hear the rationale that allows a customer to bring a grubby travel mug to Starbucks for a refill, and will not allow my squeaky-clean steel container at the meat counter. Or why no one is checking my jars for germs at the bulk food aisle, where many of the bins are at the perfect height for inquisitive toddlers. Or why Californian germs are less virulent than Connecticut germs.

So I’m sorry to hear about your scale, but wanted to say thank you for the education I’ve gotten reading your blog. Keep up the good work!

Oh, and, to top off the evening, one of my cats ate the food I made, and the other refuses to believe that it’s even edible. So, that combined with no luck at the meat counter, it’s back to regular cat food for me… and I am left with an entire container of Balance It, (minus 4 red scoops). Beth, would you be interested in taking it off my hands? I promise to ship it without any plastic! :o)

Thanks again for your marvelous blog!


Mindful Momma
13 years ago

I’m having digital scale woes too Beth. Only it’s a body weight scale, not a food scale. The darned digital display went bad! I didn’t go to great lengths to try to fix mine like you did but I haven’t bought a new scale yet because I don’t want to buy another crappy product again! Fortunately, we still have a trusty old mechanical scale. Not as accurate but still works after 20+ years!!

Deb J
13 years ago

Planned obsolescence pure and simple. I’m almost 58 years old. I remember when companies made things to last…and last, and last, and last. Now we live in a world where many people change the entire decor of their home every 6 months to a year, buy clothes that cycle through thrift shops 10 times and buy meals that come in throw away containers. My cousin was shocked to see that pots and pans they bought us as a Christmas present 10 years ago are still being used. That’s because we take care of them. Keep up the good work of telling us about things and working for change.

13 years ago

That company/rep needs to understand that no matter what each of us has been “sold” from what politically motivated group, telling paying customers that they are gullible is poor business practice. But I guess as long as sheeple keep buying his stuff, and he has money to roll around in, he won’t bother to learn that disagreeing with someone doesn’t make them less of a human :P

I have a scale, but I hate getting it out, taring it, weighing, then cleaning off whatever container I used to measure stuff in. So I usually do that one or two times until I get a decent average volume, then measure that way. Somehow in my addled brain it means less work for me. But you can’t do that with a broken scale :(

Every time I think too long about planned obsolescence, I come back to the idea that we haven’t come too far from our toddler years, when we were horrible at estimating whether a snake or a pancake of play dough is bigger even though we just saw the identical rolled up balls they came from. The only difference is now, as long as we have MORE stuff, who cares if it’s crap?

13 years ago

It sounds like the mechanical assembly worked fine but the computer chip running the display broke. Microprocessors of all sorts can fail in all sorts of interesting ways. That sounds like exactly what happened here. This probably could have been fixed by replacing the micro-controller. Although, actually building the replacement would probably result in a similar amount of trash buildup and creation as to buying a new scale.

I could write for volumes about the throw-away culture when it comes to electronics. Ever try to get a wiring diagram for a fancy new LCD TV? There’s a reason why it’s becoming impossible to find TV repair shops.

Tina Clark
13 years ago

I’m just wondering, did you try at all to educate the guy who told you it was ok to throw it in the landfill? I know, it would have been useless, but I always beat my head against a wall and try. Probably why I’m always so frustrated.

13 years ago

I like that terminology – ‘planned obsolescence’. It speaks volumes to the mentality / business plans of most/many companies today. It also goes back to subtitle of the Walmart movie – ‘the high cost of low prices’. When new things cost so little to purchase, we don’t really value them as much, as we can just go buy a new one if it breaks. I know you already know it is most often cheaper / less trouble to buy new than to fix old. I agree with Mark – what happened to the good old days when things had serviceable parts and we could pay someone to fix it?

13 years ago

Oh- isn’t this just the way the world is going. Our economy is based on things breaking and having to be replaced- instead of employing people to fix the broken mess.
Makes me want to pull my hair out!
Thanks for going to the trouble to try and fix the problem- and boo hiss to the rep who told you there is nothing wrong with putting his broken crap in a landfill.
shame on him/her.