The world is not prepared to deal with the increasing amounts of potentially toxic electronic waste. Dumpsites are overflowing. Recyclers can’t keep up. The United Nations warned of a major threat to the planet and human health.
We’re depleting the world of finite resources to buy things that are meant to become waste. Things we could repair or upgrade instead.
What is the Right to Repair?
Tech companies and manufacturers don’t want you to fix or upgrade your gadgets.
People have had enough. 77 percent of EU consumers would rather repair their goods than buy new ones (Eurobarometer 2014). From the US to Europe, we are reclaiming our right to repair. We demand easy access to information, spare parts and repair tools. We want a better product design that makes repair possible at a reasonable price.
The current situation is unsustainable for governments and businesses that are highly dependent on virgin raw materials imported from far-away countries, despite solutions already available in Europe to improve repair and reuse.
The good news is that we have the means to reverse this trend through better product policy. With 80% of the environmental impacts of products determined at design stage, product design has the potential to increase repairability, durability and recyclability of products.
Part of the EU legislation on product design known as Ecodesign and Energy Labelling has already set out durability requirements for certain products such as vacuum cleaner motors and light bulbs. But it has so far mainly focused on making fridges, TVs and other appliances more energy efficient. Given its success, why not include more requirements to make products that last longer and are easily reparable?
By introducing minimum durability requirements on the products and key components, such as making smartphone screens shock resistant, policy makers can ensure products that are placed on the EU market last longer.
Similarly, Ecodesign should ensure that consumers can easily replace, repair or upgrade essential parts of the products such as door gaskets for refrigerators or smartphone batteries.
Another issue is that consumers are not even made aware of the durability and repairability options of different products on the market. In other words, consumers are prevented from making an informed choice between a durable product and one that does the same job but is likely to break after a few months or years. That is why, alongside improved design, we need labels to include information on product life expectancy, repairability and the quality of materials used in products.