‘Manufacturers will be obliged to make appliances more easily repairable and longer-lasting as a result following a decision by national representatives,’ says the European Environment Bureau.
European Environment Ministers have put together a series of rules which intend to force manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend.
This rule signed off last week and will be in effect from April 2021. Consumers in the EU will have the ‘Right to Repair‘ their everyday products, such as their lighting, televisions and large home appliances, like refrigerators, washing machines and dishwashers.
At the moment, many manufacturers do not want their customers repairing the products they have purchased from them themselves. Taking your items to a local repair shop is also discouraged.
In order to enforce this, some do not sell individual parts – or if they do, they do provide any repair services, they are at a ridiculous cost. No documentation on how to repair their products is provided. Typically, they also officially state that products repaired by third parties are not no longer able to be serviced by them – forcing you to take it back to who you bought it from.
This leads to consumers having to repurchase the whole electronic/appliance/item, even if it can be fixed – because it is the most financially viable option for both the consumer and the company.
This heightened consumption also raises questions about how ethical the supply chain of each of its’ parts and materials are.
This ‘Right to Repair’ leaves little room for designed or planned obsolescence…
What is designed or planned obsolescence?
So, designed or planned obsolescence can be broken down into two categories:
1. Functional obsolescence: when a product no longer fulfils new use expectations, for technical, regulatory and/or economic reasons.
This refers to the deliberate, designed and planned shortening of a product’s life, leading the item to become obsolete – in other words, no longer functional after a certain period of time.
Such goods in the linear economy are designed with obsolescence in mind. They are designed to break down prematurely, need updating or diminish in product quality, leading to repurchasing, sometimes a newer version.
2. Evolutionary obsolescence: when a product no longer corresponds to users’ desires, for reasons of design, style, fashion etc.
Ever had an iPhone that works perfectly fine but then a newer version came out that you simply had to buy? Yes, it’s exactly that.
However, manufacturers say that ‘The proposed rules on repairability are too strict and will stifle innovation.’
Why Should We Support and Celebrate the ‘Right to Repair‘?
Here’s a breakdown summary of why the ‘Right to Repair‘ is something to be celebrated.
Let’s bear in mind that there is a lot of overlap because of the interconnectedness of the issue.
Financially and Economically:
- We can support local, independent repair shops/professionals.
- More repair shops/centres will pop up, meaning that we will have to wait less time to get our repaired goods back.
- It will cost us less money to repair our products, because we can either do it ourselves or take it to an independent repair shop, which is more affordable
Depending on where you live, the cost of such appliances are drastically increased because of the import taxes or it may not even be possible at all – leading us to have to repurchase the product.
- The warranty is typically valid for only two years.
- Electronic waste (e-waste) contains many Rare Earth Metals, such as samarium, europium, yttrium, gadolinium and dysprosium which are currently hardly recycled. The prices of these metals are projected to increase, meaning that we are throwing away valuables.
- 80% of a product’s environmental impacts are determined at the design stage, meaning that moving towards a more sustainable design can improve repairability, durability and recyclability of products.
- E-waste is the fastest growing waste source worldwide and only 35% of the e-waste in Europe is collected and treated.
- 227 to 270 kilograms of carbon dioxide are emitted in manufacturing a laptop computer. (This ranges because of the variability in materials used and different manufacturing processes.)
- Electronics and appliances are energy-intensive products. More often that not, a lot of electronics are manufactured in China, Taiwan or India, using non-renewable resources like coal.
- You purchased it and own it, so you have the right to fix it. We should be able to chose whether we want a repair shop or the manufacturer to fix it.
- Is it not unethical to purposely design a product so that it will deteriorate after a set amount of time?
- A large majority (It was around 50% – 80% in 2008) of e-waste, which can be hazardous (under the Basel Convention), is also shipped to other countries, like China and India, where many workers use unregulated processes to disassemble and extract recyclable materials, whilst exposing themselves to toxic gases and materials. Making this an environmental justice issue as well.
- A lot of our parts, that end up going to waste. Tantalum (in cellphones, DVD players, laptops, hard drives and gaming devices), tungsten, tin, and gold are all considered as ‘conflict minerals’ as the trade of it has been financing conflict and socio-political unrest in central Africa, notably in the the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Along with other serious, complex issues, from the atrocious working conditions of the mines, to forced and child labour, (gender-based) violence and its’ knock-on effects.
Feel free to comment or to bring up any more impacts that may not have been mentioned above!
If you live in the US in a state that has not passed any ‘Right to Repair’ legislation as yet, check out iFixit, a global community of people helping each other repair things. They also advocate for the passing of the ‘Right to Repair’ legislation.
If you live in the UK, check out The Restart Project, a social enterprise that teaches people how to repair broken or slow devices. They also work with schools and organisations.