Right to Repair in 2022

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Right to Repair in 2022

In 2022, after decades of public outrage over pollution and corporate greed, why are we still allowing manufacturers to manipulate us into throwing away items that should be easily repaired?

Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News

For too many years, manufacturers have been able to decide whether customers can repair the products they have rightfully purchased. Effectively, you can buy their product but you don’t have any ability to fix it – unless they say so. 

These companies have never actually stated that you can’t repair the items they manufacture, which would be a PR nightmare, but instead have made it increasingly difficult. Increasingly, it seems you now have 2 options; rely on expensive factory owned service centers or discard the item and buy a new one. As a result, many people don’t even bother trying to repair a broken item anymore; they proceed straight to the “buy a new one” stage. Thankfully, after decades of pressure from consumer groups, some jurisdictions are enacting “Right-to-Repair” legislation to give consumers more power over how their goods can be repaired and who can do it.

Right to Repair laws are a set of laws that give consumers the right to repair their own electronic devices by forcing manufacturers to provide parts, tools and software support. This includes computers, cell phones, and many other household consumer electronics and appliances. The laws also give consumers the right to choose who repairs their device and to get parts and information from the manufacturer to do so. 

The goal is to make it easier for consumers to repair their own devices and to create more competition in the repair market. This can help to lower prices and improve quality, and the laws can also help to reduce e-waste by making it easier to repair a device rather than replacing it. These laws help keep power in the hands of consumers and ensure that we’re not at the mercy of manufacturers when something goes wrong with our devices. With the right to repair, we can choose who we want to fix our devices and we’re not limited by what the manufacturer decides.

As more and more of our devices become reliant on software and are web enabled by communicating over the internet, we must have the right to choose to whether our device updates software or not. Remote updates of software over the internet are increasingly commonplace and pose a potential security risk. Full disclosure of what an update does, and enforceable laws that protect the consumer are needed. If we do choose to run an update, it is reasonable to expect the item will retain functionality, as opposed to being crippled by said update.

In June of this year, a billion dollar class action type lawsuit was filed in the UK against Apple. The lawsuit, representing 25 million iPhone users, alleges that Apple knowingly pushed updates to unsuspecting consumers that resulted in degraded performance of older phones. Specifically, the new software used so much power that it rendered these phones useless, all the while misleadingly referring to the software a performance update. When the malware was first uncovered, Apple apologised and agreed to pay US customers $500 million and $25 million to French iPhone owners. Deceiving your customers is bad form at the least and in this case, it has also become very costly. 

Who knows how many people spent money to upgrade their iPhones as a result, but more importantly, how many perfectly usable iPhones ended up in the waste stream as a result? 

But it is not just mobile phones and consumer electronics that are affected by manufacturers’ anti-repair policy. Large household appliances are often being designed so that they are not repairable, or the cost to do so becomes prohibitive. A clothes dryer that would last for 20 plus years with a repair of a new set of roller bearings might not be able to be repaired at all, or the amount of time it would take for a service technician to make the repair would cost more than buying one new. An electric kettle that should be able to last a lifetime (if you could repair the heating element), may not be worth fixing because an equally irreparable replacement is just so darn cheap to buy. 

For cars, the impact would be huge. Currently, carmakers like Ford and GM make it very difficult for consumers to repair their own vehicles. If the “right to repair” laws are passed, it would mean that consumers could go to any mechanic to get their car repaired, instead of being forced to go to a dealership to maintain the warranty. This would be a big win for consumers, who would save money on repairs. Interestingly, this secondary revenue stream for auto-manufacturers and their dealerships accounts for a significant portion of their income. It has been suggested as one of the main reasons so many traditional dealerships do not like selling electric vehicles; an EV doesn’t require oil changes, tune-ups or even brakes service as often as an ICE vehicle and as a result directly affects the dealer’s bottom line.

Upstart auto manufacturer Tesla has also gained scrutiny recently when it came to light that when a vehicle is legitimately sold to a second owner, software based upgrades, often costing the original owner tens of thousands of dollars, are revoked as a matter of policy. Imagine buying a Tesla vehicle with a Tesla installed upgraded battery pack from 60kWh to 90kWh and then having Tesla, without warning, reset the software to only give you the original 60? It would be like buying a vehicle with an extended range fuel tank installed at the factory, and then having the manufacturer come and remove it unless you pay – again. For some drivers this could mean the difference of being able to commute to work or not, let alone the actual cash value of the upgrade that is lost.

Critics of Right to Repair argue that the laws could lead to dangerous or shoddy repairs, as well as increase the risk of data breaches if people try to repair their own devices or hire others without proper training or knowledge. However, proponents of the legislation say that these risks are outweighed by the benefits of giving consumers more control over their repairs. The critic’s argument loses even more validity when you consider that there are millions of perfectly safe vehicles driving the roads every day that are maintained by independent mechanics other than manufacturer’s dealerships.

As an environmentalist, I am shocked to learn how much waste is generated. According to The World Counts, “E-waste is the most rapidly growing waste problem in the world. We generate about 50 million tons of it every year. This is equivalent to throwing out 1000 laptops every single second.” Obviously this is unsustainable, but even recycling isn’t a good answer, because the much of it is sent to African countries that do not have strict environmental or health and safety laws resulting in the products simply being burned, sometimes using child labour.

 

Laws with teeth are important for consumers and society as a whole because they not only help reduce the amount of e-waste that must be dealt with, but they also enable secondary and tertiary businesses to thrive in the countries where the products are sold. Repair technicians live in the communities they service and spend their money there. They pay taxes, employ others and provide good jobs to people that might otherwise be stuck in fulfillment centres working at minimum wage with no benefits. 

If you’re interested in learning more about right to repair laws, or supporting these laws in your area, there are a few ways you can get involved. You can contact your local representatives and let them know why right to repair is important to you, or you can support organizations like the Repair Association in the US, Right to Repair in Europe, and the Restart Project in the UK. 

If you know of any resources I am missing, please send me an email and I will get them added asap. 

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