Being able to repair our possessions allows us to extend the lifespan of our possessions, something especially important for electrical goods.
The right to repair movement seeks to ensure that all consumers are able to repair their belongings.
Why is the right to repair movement so important for the environment?
Reducing waste is one of the most important things we can do to protect the environment.
Single-use plastics and landfill waste are far from the only contributors to waste. Electronics are hard to recycle or repair, so much of them end up in landfills.
This means a lot of reusable components or materials can’t be reused.
Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, is made up of electrical or electronic items, such as appliances, computers, smartphones, televisions, cameras, toasters, and more. If you can plug it into an electrical outlet or it has circuit boards then it’s e-waste.
Right to repair seeks to cut down on e-waste by allowing people to repair their devices, which extends their lifespan and reduces how often we need to replace electronics.
What is the right to repair movement?
The right to repair movement is a global campaign seeking to ensure that everyone has the right to fix their devices.
Launched in 2019, Europe’s right to repair campaign is made up of environmental activists, self-repair advocates, community repair groups, and any citizens who want the right to repair. They want to remove barriers stopping consumers from repairing their products.
Over the years, e-waste has grown thanks to phone and laptop manufacturers making their products more difficult to repair. For some, repairing your own gadgets can void its warranty, especially when it comes to phones and tablets.
Apple’s one-year limited warranty for Mac products does not apply to “damage caused by service … performed by anyone who is not a representative of Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider … [or] to an Apple Product that has been modified to alter functionality or capability without the written permission of Apple”.
Essentially, even if you take your broken Mac to a local repair shop, your warranty will be voided.
This isn’t a problem if your issue is covered by the warranty, which also excludes “defects caused by normal wear and tear or otherwise due to the normal aging of the Apple Product” and “cosmetic damage, including but not limited to scratches, dents and broken plastic on ports unless failure has occurred due to a defect in materials or workmanship”.
A local repair shop might cost cheaper, but if you have any other issues with your Mac you might not be covered by your warranty even if it’s a manufacturing problem.
This is what right to repair seeks to change.
Why do we need the right to repair?
Electronic gadgets are getting harder to repair.
In an interview with CBS News, Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of the Repair Association, said: “It’s getting harder for people to buy things that are repairable. The problem is getting worse, much worse … Anything with a battery is hard to repair unless the manufacturer makes it easy.”
Right to repair advocates for owners of products to own their devices fully, so people can use, modify, and repair gadgets whenever, wherever, and however they want.
Being able to repair products helps cut down on e-waste and lengthens the lifespan of your devices, which can also cut down on emissions.
Local repair shops also support the local economy and provide more affordable and accessible options to consumers.
The Federal Trade Commission’s 2021 report to Congress on Repair Restrictions concludes that self-regulation “can significantly increase consumers’ repair options”, based on the automotive industry.
The FTC also found that manufacturers use methods like limiting the availability of parts and tools, making diagnostic software unavailable, and using adhesives to make parts difficult to replace in order to make products harder to maintain and repair.
Companies that do this try to monopolize their industry in an effort to drive sales up. Microsoft is suspected of offering to pay more in taxes to fund STEM education in order to block a right to repair bill in Washington state in 2019.
Right to repair supports small businesses like local repair shops and gives more ownership and flexibility to consumers. Limiting the availability of parts ensures that people have to turn to the company for repairs, who can then decide their prices without competition.
Other companies known to lobby against right to repair include Amazon, Apple, and Google. All benefit from selling more products to consumers or monopolizing repair services.
With the power to decide who can and can’t access repair components, these companies can continue to capitalize on consumers buying new products year after year.
Why is repairing good for the environment?
The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 report, published by the United Nations University, found that 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were generated in 2019.
The amount of e-waste generated globally has grown by 9.2 million metric tons since 2014, and is expected to exceed 70 million metric tons by 2030.
An average of 2.5 million metric tons of electrical and electronic equipment is consumed every year. By 2030, the amount of e-waste will have doubled in only 16 years.
The report found the growth of e-waste is “mainly fueled” by high consumption rates of electrical and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few repair options.
Short life cycles and few repair options are linked.
By repairing our devices, we can extend their life cycles and slow the rate of e-waste mounting up. Instead of replacing our devices every couple of years, we can make them last longer and reduce waste.
Repaired devices can also be sold secondhand, such as refurbished laptops.
This is a better alternative to throwing them away when used up, and the need for more products will subsequently be minimized. Thus, emissions can be reduced from production, and landfills will only take truly broken unrepairable e-waste.
How does repairing help the environment?
Repairing helps the environment by cutting down on waste.
If your toaster works for 2 years and then breaks, but after being repaired it works for another 2 years, you’ve helped cut down on e-waste by not buying new.
Similarly, by darning your socks you can cut down on how much wearable, easily repairable clothing is sent to landfill each year.
According to the Restart Project, also part of the right to repair movement, around 79% of the average smartphone’s CO2e impact happens before even being used by the consumer.
If the average person replaces their phone every 2 years, most will have upwards of 30 phones during their lifetime.
Compare and Recycle estimates the average lifetime carbon footprint of an iPhone to be around 77.64 kg of CO2e, equivalent to 8.7 gallons of petrol.
Their data is based on Apple’s own environmental reports, which show that an iPhone 13 model contributes over 70 kg of CO2e, with the iPhone 13 Pro Max amounting to over 90 kg of CO2e.
Apple has sold over 210 million iPhones per year since 2015. Owning 30 iPhones would amount to an average of 2329.2 kg of CO2e.
Repairing smartphones alone could cut down a lot of CO2e emissions, reducing the number of phones you use in a lifetime. Extending this to other electronic devices will make an even bigger impact.
The environmental cost of repairing your old laptop doesn’t compare to the greenhouse gases released during the manufacturing of a new laptop.
These figures demonstrate just how unsustainable it is to buy new gadgets year after year.
What does repair mean for sustainability?
You may have heard of the six Rs of sustainability.
The three basic R’s known across the world are: reduce, reuse, recycle. The goal with reduce, reuse, recycle is to prevent waste and conserve natural resources, but there are other lesser-known Rs that complement and help these goals.
(I’ve also seen up to 14 Rs of sustainability, but these six are both easier to remember and can be used for most items, especially e-waste.)
The six Rs of sustainability are principles we should keep in mind when trying to reduce our environmental impact. They are:
- Rethink: do you need to buy this? Should you get it secondhand instead?
- Refuse: don’t buy what you don’t need
- Reduce: use less, waste less
- Repair: is it really broken, or can you fix it?
- Reuse: reuse or repurpose before throwing away
- Recycle: make sure to recycle everything you can
Repair is an important principle and step in sustainability because it extends how long you use an item, preventing you from having to buy new, and helps you reduce your waste.
How to support the right to repair movement
There are many ways you can support your local or national movement for right to repair.
You can search right to repair movements in your country and check their pages to find out more.
Some ways of supporting the right to repair movement include:
- Signing petitions
- Raising awareness about the movement
- Donating to right to repair non-profit organizations
- Contacting your government representatives
- Getting involved by volunteering your time
- Staying informed about the movement
Some organizations arrange repair events to help fix gadgets and teach others how to fix their own devices.