Right to Repair is an important movement in reducing the total volume of e-waste recycled or landfilled each year. Unfortunately, many individuals, municipalities and some companies are not aware of the refurbishing capabilities of e-waste processors.
By Michael Pauzano

In the electronic waste business, there is a hierarchy of disposal methods. First, it is preferable to refurbish electronics for resale. Next, if the electronics cannot be refurbished, they should be recycled. This could mean their parts are used individually in new electronic devices or scrapped for new material. Both refurbishment and recycling are preferred alternatives to landfilling e-waste.

Some manufacturers, however, restrict the right to repair their electronic products, barring companies from refurbishing their products for resale. They limit the ability to repair products, both intentionally and unintentionally, by failing to provide sufficient information about the products and limiting access to replacement parts. Restricting access to repair helps ensure that companies continue to have a market to sell new products.

On the other side of the issue, there are advocates working to enact policies that would allow for more refurbishing and less landfilling. One movement that advocates for this in the electronics and appliance sectors is the Right to Repair movement.

Clean Earth employee tests refurbished computer. Photo courtesy of Clean Earth.

The Right to Repair Movement
The Right to Repair movement advocates a call on manufacturers to provide people and businesses who repair and refurbish electronics with access to service information and affordable
replacement parts.

The Right to Repair movement has proposed legislation that would allow electronics owners to repair their broken products rather than replace them. In 2022, there are active Right to Repair bills in 18 states. These bills would require manufacturers by law to provide the necessary information to those interested in repairing their products.

The goal is to change the culture around consumption and repair to reduce the volume of new electronics produced, ultimately helping to curb the overwhelming volume of e-waste that is currently discarded. E-waste is least hazardous when it is part of a whole, functioning product. Additionally, advocates for this movement contend that individuals and companies that repair products should not have to take unreasonable steps with manufacturers to repair their belongings.

An example of a Right to Repair application is fixing a car that might otherwise be totaled due to unaffordable replacement parts. Another example is refurbishing phones and laptops to resell to schools or individuals looking for high-quality devices at a more affordable price than new products.

There is some opposition to the movement from larger electronics companies and appliance manufacturers looking to sell new products. In fact, some electronics companies actively work against refurbishment efforts by slowing down their software and requiring frequent updates that render older devices obsolete.

Despite this opposition, demand for refurbished electronics and repaired appliances remains high due to the long list of benefits. The movement has momentum and holds everyone accountable in reducing overall waste and demand. It offers consumers the opportunity to reliably repair their items rather than replacing them, which often saves them money. It also holds manufacturers responsible for being transparent and offering consumers the information, tools, and parts they need to repair items they have purchased.

Right to Repair and Refurbished Goods
The Right to Repair movement also supports e-waste specialists’ ability to refurbish and re-sell the electronics they process. Working with customers on an agreement to first refurbish, if possible, and then recycle leads to rewarding outcomes for both specialists and their clients.

Refurbishing helps to slow the incredible growth in e-waste and reduces demand for newly manufactured electronics, which has implications for the environment. For example, manufacturing a new computer accounts for 75 percent of the fossil fuels and energy that computer will use in its lifetime, so reducing demand for new computers slows the overall use of fossil fuel and energy. Additionally, refurbishing ensures the hazardous elements from the electronics do not leach into groundwater, threatening the safety of environmental and public health.

Refurbishment is an excellent choice for many organizations. For those whose devices store highly confidential or proprietary data, refurbishment could seem risky. Some e-waste processors hold specialized secure destruction certifications showing the facilities and people who work at the facilities follow a set of standards to ensure secure data management.

The National Association of Information Destruction (NAID) certification requires these companies to have a 24-hour camera system surveilling all data destruction, background checks, and random drug tests for all members of the processing team and access cards to enter the processing area.

Another common certification is the R2 certification that sets standards for used electronics every step of the way through testing, repairing, reusing, and recycling. To hold the certification, companies must follow specialized processes.

Together, these certifications ensure e-waste companies go the extra mile and are well equipped to securely handle and destroy data. If the clients still want more evidence, some companies specializing in e-waste encourage their customers to visit a secure data destruction facility and see the process for themselves.

Educating about Right to Repair
Right to Repair is an important movement in reducing the total volume of e-waste recycled or landfilled each year. Unfortunately, many individuals, municipalities and some companies are not aware of the refurbishing capabilities of e-waste processors. Similarly, many are not presented with the option to repair their electronics, sending more usable products to be recycled and
supporting continued demand for new products.

Because of this lack of education, e-waste is often treated as trash and broken in the process. When these products are broken, the likelihood of successfully refurbishing them decreases. Furthermore, lack of access to proper e-waste recycling services means that the process is inconvenient for most individuals.

Organizations and municipalities should work with e-waste partners who provide customized solutions and make them aware of all the available options for e-waste management, including secure destruction, refurbishment, and recycling. With the right e-waste partner, it can be simple to dispose of electronics that are eligible for refurbishment or recycling.

Advocates both within these e-waste companies and in the government-influencing sector are working to provide individuals and municipalities with the education needed to understand the
extended lifecycle of electronics, the benefits of refurbishment over recycling, and how to properly dispose of this waste so it can go on to be refurbished. | WA

Michael Pauzano has been with Clean Earth for more than nine years. He is the Facility Manager of two facilities: Clean Earth’s E-Waste Facility and TSDF both located in Allentown, PA. He has extensive experience in the industry and possesses particular knowledge regarding the recycling of e-waste and surrounding trends. Michael can be reached at [email protected].

• www.repair.org
• www.repair.org/stand-up
• www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/the-global-cost-of-electronic-waste/502019/