Better Than Recycling: ‘Right to Repair’ Movement Is Gaining TractionJun 11, 2019
People should have a right to fix their own stuff, right? Well, as it currently stands, the companies that make our phones, laptops, and anything along those lines, are actively blocking us from tinkering with our devices when they falter, and the consequences are starting to pile up, literally.
The Problem: Unlawful Manufacturing Standards
Big tech companies like Apple and Samsung offer virtually no support to consumers when our devices stop working; no replacement parts, no information, nothing. In fact, it’s considered unlawful and a breach of our warranty if we try to take matters into our own hands and repair our smart phones or laptops ourselves. Our only choice is often to discard of our malfunctioning device and buy a brand new one, much to the delight of these companies, who profit off of our lack of knowledge and access to replacement parts.
Environmental Impact of Electronic Waste and Extraction
Electronics are the fastest growing waste stream in the world, with an estimated 60 million tons being thrown away every year. As we continue to rapidly develop new technologies, the rare earth minerals that it takes to mine them are becoming more scarce and our quickly discarded devices are sitting in landfills leeching toxic chemicals into the Earth, compromising the health of neighboring communities and the planet at large.
It’s very clear that we need to enter into a much more sustainable way of doing things. In a culture that has become digitally fixated and obsessed with acquiring the latest and fastest gadgets, it is our responsibility as consumers to address the impact of planned obsolescence while working to repair, reuse, and salvage more of our electronics. We need to have access to the education and tools necessary to do this. We need a coalition of consumers to break this pattern and begin turning the tide towards something much more realistic and environmentally sound.
Enter: The “Right to Repair” movement. Right to Repair is an initiative to advocate for laws that allow people to fix things that they own and access knowledge and tools to be able to perform such tasks. It’s radical, and at least 18 states in the U.S. are already considering this legislation. with broad bipartisan support.
A History of Planned Obsolescence
The Right to Repair bill was introduced shortly after Apple was accused of deliberately slowing down older iPhones, using lithium-ion batteries which don’t hold a strong charge and or last very long. Apple made it impossible to replace this battery by not making any new ones available to their customers, not giving any instructions on replacing them, and using a strong adhesive to keep the old battery stuck in place. All of these sneaky tactics are quite common, and ultimately force consumers into buying a brand new device when something as simple as their battery stops working. You certainly wouldn’t throw away a car if the old battery stopped working, so why our phones?
Nathan Proctor, the director of the Right to Repair campaign, explains that this legislation “establishes that you have a legal right to repair something that you own and that does not infringe upon the copyright protection afforded to the manufacturer.”
Right to Repair reforms are also being strongly supported by farmers, as modern farm equipment often comes with proprietary software that doesn’t permit independent repair and can dramatically throw off a farmer’s crop schedule and yields as a result.
Manufacturers Need To Level Up
Right to Repair, once established, will require manufacturers to release diagnostic and repair instructions and make equipment or service parts available to product owners and to independent repair shops. An army of repair technicians are ready to take on all the new jobs that would emerge out of this shift in policy and industry practice.
An Open Source Repair Manual: iFixit
Many people simply need more information on repairing their own stuff, such as techie Mike Fisher from New York. He explained that he had an Xbox that suddenly stopped turning on and he wasn’t able to get any help from the manufacturers on the issue. He says:
“Microsoft is known for having pretty terrible out of warranty support and I didn’t feel like purchasing a new device for something that was as simple as a faulty internal fan. I looked around for some repair shops in NYC to fix it, but they were either unable to do the repair or not worth the cost.”
He shared that he had heard about a company formed in 2003 called iFixit and had found a DIY guide to repair his Xbox on their open source Wiki page. They also sold a complete toolkit to make performing the repair possible.
Before the Right to Repair initiative came to be, iFixit has been teaching ordinary consumers to fix what they own. iFixit offers a Wiki page filled with easy to use repair manuals for devices, with the option of creating your own repair manual for a device to be shared publicly.
Why a Right to Repair Matters
If Right to Repair were enacted, environmental threats from electronic waste would be significantly reduced and consumers will be that much more informed and empowered to fix their stuff. With a staggering rate of 350,000 cell phones being discarded daily, this legislation would make it possible to save resources and reduce carbon emissions from not manufacturing new products.
We should have a right to do whatever we’d like with our property without arbitrary contracts, corporate interests, or government interference. It’s time we become conscious consumers and put power back into the hands of the people, where it belongs, to fix what they own.
Photo credits: Lisa Larson-Walker, James Martin/CNET, Adobe Stock, ClarkandCompany Getty Images.
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