Technology is an indispensable aspect of our daily lives. From mobile phones to laptops, tablets, power banks, and other electrical and electronic devices. When these devices break down, you may often have to undergo a complicated process to repair them.
Some manufacturers recommend (or stipulate) that you can only visit a few suppliers to get your device fixed. In addition, fixing these devices may cost as much as getting a new one.
The right-to-repair movement is an international effort to prevent repair restrictions, push for access to repair options and protect consumer rights.
In this article, we will examine what the right to repair is all about and why it all matters.
The Right to Repair refers to the right of owners of devices and equipment to repair products without any restrictions freely. In other words, right-to-repair advocates that if you own a device or equipment, you should have the legal right to repair it yourself or take it to independent repair shops.
Also, the right to repair requires access to spare parts, tools, and manuals needed to repair your devices.
The Repair Association or Digital Right to Repair Coalition (a right-to-repair advocacy group with over 400 businesses and millions of repair and reuse enthusiasts) started major grassroots movements which have led to almost all state legislative efforts in the United States. The Repair Association advocates for several objectives. Here are some of their right-to-repair objectives:
Besides consumer technology, repair advocates also highlight the need to repair other equipment like medical equipment, tractors, agricultural equipment (e.g., John Deere tractors), and much more.
More than efforts from the coalition, individuals have also started ballot initiatives. For example, thanks to individual efforts, a ballot initiative was certified and included in the 2022 ballot in Missouri.
Today, consumers use electronics daily. Think of cell phones or something like electronic toothbrushes. With the daily use of these products comes wear and tear.
Most times, fixing consumer electronics and devices proves a difficult task. You may need to take it to the original manufacturer for repair or buy an entirely new product if the repair costs are high.
On the other hand, most manufacturers do not share resources to help customers fix the product independently. You may also be unable to upgrade parts of your device due to these repair restrictions.
As a result, the lifespan of consumer electronics becomes shortened, leading to waste. For example, according to Statista, the average lifespan of consumer smartphones was around 2.65 years.
Electronic waste or e-waste refers to obsolete or damaged electronic or electrical equipment. In 2021, 57.4 million tonnes of e-waste was generated1, with countries like China, India, and the United States producing the most e-waste. Here are some effects of electronic waste on the environment:
Electronic waste is not biodegradable, meaning that when this type of waste is disposed of, they accumulate in the environment, causing pollution. Open-air burning and acid baths of electronic components lead to the release of toxic materials into the environment. Also, this exposes workers to contaminants like mercury, cadmium, and lead.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), metals and chemicals from electronic waste, such as lead, mercury, nickel, and zinc, are hazardous to human health. The World Health Organization also reveals that exposure to these chemicals can adversely affect children and expectant mothers.
When we dispose of electronics waste improperly, heavy metals and flame retardants can seep into the soil, causing contamination of both groundwater and crops planted. Since they are non-biodegradable, these e-pollutants can remain in the ground for long and harm plants and microorganisms.
These heavy metals and chemicals also enter our streams, rivers, and lakes, leading to toxification and acidification of our water sources. Acidic water can kill marine animals and damage the ecosystem. It is also unsafe for plants and humans.
Electronic consumer goods also have some effect on climate change. With more old, damaged devices in our landfills, manufacturers produce more to replace them. This can increase the carbon footprint during production, contributing to climate change and global warming.
Here are some examples of different right-to-repair legislation:
The right-to-repair movement has several advantages for users and the environment. Here are a few benefits that come with supporting the right to repair:
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of supporting the repair movement is accessibility. Users can easily repair their products without paying hefty fees with the right to repair. More people can easily access these services without waiting on the manufacturer.
Another benefit that comes with support for the right-to-repair movement is environmental sustainability. With the right to repair, we can extend the lifespan of our devices, reduce waste and protect natural resources that would otherwise go into producing new devices.
With more individuals and independent repair shops having access to knowledge, repairs can be done locally, creating more jobs. It also creates healthy competition between local businesses and manufacturers, stimulating local economies.
The right-to-repair movement emphasizes reducing the replacement of electronic devices and reducing waste. With the right to repair, users can turn to refurbished items instead of buying new products. Refurbished products are functional and affordable while reducing waste. In the long run, buying refurbished items can help boost the circular economy.
While there are many benefits of having right-to-repair laws, there are some arguments against these laws.
One of the major arguments against right-to-repair legislation is user safety. Many argue that having access to manuals and spare parts can get users injured as they may not have the skill or training to conduct repairs. Many devices are also combustible, and mishandling these devices can hurt the user or customer.
Another argument is that companies use more intricate tools and materials that require licensing. As a result, consumers cannot easily purchase these materials at a local hardware store.
Many also argue on the issue of device security, claiming that allowing third parties to access software, tools, and sensitive repair information, can jeopardize the safety of a user’s device.
They claim that these third-party repairers can get into software locks and hijack customer data.
For other manufacturers and companies, easier repair means the product can last longer, affecting future sales. If consumers can easily fix their devices and machines, they won’t need to purchase another, making it difficult for these companies to generate more sales.
Many companies have lobbied against right-to-repair laws. For example 2018, companies like Toyota, Facebook, Verizon, and others lobbied against right-to-repair laws in New York.
In May 2021, the Federal Trade Commission analyzed many reviews against the right to repair. It concluded in a report that there was scant evidence to support the manufacturers’ advocacy for repair restrictions.
Several companies over the years have fought against right-to-repair laws, refusing to offer self-service repairs based on intellectual property infringement.
However, as consumers demand repairs, tech companies have made adjustments to improve user experience by repairing their products. Here are some companies responding to the movement:
The right to repair does not impact warranties and consumer protections. In the United States, conditioning warranty service is illegal and a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act - a federal and state legislation that directs the Federal Trade Commission to formulate regulations for written warranties.
The law was passed to protect consumers by fixing problems arising from manufacturers using disclaimers on warranties unfairly. Under this act, a company cannot condition a product’s warranty.
Providing certain parts of the product for free and voiding the warranty still violates the law. However, a company can withhold warranty coverage for damages caused by third-party services. This law allows most users to use in-warranty services and independent repair stores when the original warranty has expired.
Over the years, the right-to-repair movement has gained popularity in diverse states and countries worldwide. The movement aims to give consumers more control over the use of their devices.
With continuous technological advancement, it is important to consider these laws to protect consumer rights and the environment. The movement protects consumer rights and promotes innovation, sustainability, job creation, and repair market growth.
Global E-waste Generation Outlook 2030 | Statista. (n.d.). Statista.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.