The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has made available a ’30-day comment period’ on the right to repair. Consumers can now tell the agency why the right to repair is important to them. Unfortunately, the world generates around 50 million tons of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) waste each year according to a United Nations (UN) report. This massive e-waste produced globally presents a host of complex issues that affect the environment, public health, society, and the economy. The right to repair is a growing consumer rights movement that advocates for legislation and policies that enable individuals to repair and maintain the products they own. Promoting consumer awareness about the importance of maintaining and repairing electrical devices can extend their lifespan and avoid unnecessary upgrades and replacements.
One way to reduce waste is to design products that are durable and repairable. This includes using robust materials, modular designs that allow for easy repair and upgrade, and providing access to repair manuals and spare parts. For example, it is the responsibility of companies to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their workers. By supplying safe equipment and machinery, accidents at the workplace are reduced, if not avoided altogether. In addition, productivity is enhanced if the employees feel confident in the safety of the tools they are using.
Fixing equipment promotes sustainability by reducing waste. Of course, the decision to repair is based on cost factors and the rule of thumb used by the industry is the 50% rule, that is, if the repair is more than 50% of the total cost of replacing the product, then replacement is a better option according to the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). Instead of discarding broken items, consumers can extend the lifetime of their equipment and devices through repairs, which help conserve resources and reduce the environmental impact associated with manufacturing new products. All in all, the right to repair empowers consumers and businesses to take control of their maintenance and repair processes.
Developments in the U.S.
Support for the right to repair is growing in the US. Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Maine and California have already passed a Right to Repair legislation. To date, 4 states have enacted it into a law. California’s S 244 requires manufacturers of a specified products to make available to consumers, service and repair facilities the means to diagnose, maintain, or repair the product. Colorado has also ratified H 1011 or the ‘Consumer Right to Repair Agricultural Equipment’ requiring agricultural equipment manufacturers to facilitate the repair of their products.
In New York, A 1285 or the ‘Sale of Digital Electronic Equipment was passed into a law. All electronics sold on or after July 1, 2023 are covered excluding some products. On the other hand, automobile manufacturers in Massachusetts are currently challenging the law. Several states are also moving forward. In Indiana, SB 53 covering consumer electronics and farm equipment, is already introduced in the Senate. New Hampshire, Vermont, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Washington are the other states where the Right to Repair bill is introduced for deliberation by lawmakers.
European Union (EU) and the UK Progress
In the EU, the Parliament voted yes in November 2023 to adopt the right to repair regulations. Manufacturers are obliged to offer repair as an option even if the warranty period runs out. Repair is prioritized over replacement, but will not apply if sellers assert that it would be more prohibitive than replacement. According to Jean-Pierre Schweitzer of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), “it is high time for the EU to take this step and tackle problems of manufacturers forcing consumers to buy replacements for minor issues promoting a systemic wastage of resources.” The agreed text must be approved by Member States. It will hopefully get the green light before the next elections in spring of this year.
The UK has already its right to repair regulations in place since 2021. However, they do not cover all consumer products. In October last year, more than 110 UK groups signed up to a new Repair and Reuse Declaration urging the government to transition from a ‘throwaway economy.’ Sarah Ottaway of SUER recycling and recovery UK said that they are ‘committed to promote reuse and repair as mainstream as well as enhance efforts to make these more affordable and accessible for consumers.’
Repairing and reusing are viable options that promote consumer empowerment, environmental stewardship, and technological freedom. It is a collective effort to foster a more sustainable, equitable, and innovative approach to production and consumption by reducing e-waste generation.