The right to repair: A solution to the problem of E-waste generation | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 20, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:48 AM, April 20, 2021

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The right to repair: A solution to the problem of E-waste generation

"Consumerism" refers to a set of practices or ideas that encourage the sustained purchasing of goods and services in ever increasing amounts. It creates a "culture of consumption" that benefits manufacturers and producers through increasing flows in revenue often at the expense of public welfare. Unfettered consumerism has significantly contributed towards humanity's problem of waste generation. The traffic flows both ways, however: the frenetic rise in demand for goods and services has led to manufacturers and producers to produce and provide at a feverish pace leading to over-exploitation of resources. From the other end, manufacturers and producers design products that come with expiry dates. To compound the problem, manufacturers and producers make it difficult for end consumers to obtain repairs for the products which they own. This may be done (among other means) through agreements with retailers and after-service providers to not sell extra parts to end consumers; through making parts available only to specific or authorised providers of after-sales services, by providing repairs at prices that are so high that consumers more often than not will consider purchasing a brand-new product instead. This phenomenon is known as "Planned Obsolescence."

Planned Obsolescence is a leading cause of Electronic Waste (e-waste) generation. Estimates hold that around 50 million metric tonnes (approximately 7 kilograms per capita) of e-waste is generated every year. It is speculated that by the year 2030, e-waste generation will be a staggering 75 million metric tonnes (approximately 9 kilograms per capita)! Asia alone generates around 25 million metric tonnes of e-waste. Of this figure, only around 11 percent is documented e-waste. Imagine tall mountains of electronic waste leaking noxious fluids into the soil and water, all because you had to throw away an electronic product that was purposefully designed to be virtually irreparable once it gets damaged. A viable means to combat planned obsolescence is to ensure that the end consumer has access to products meant to last longer, and if broken, they should be able to repair their products. This entails that products should be designed for repair and that support for repairers of all kinds should be readily available. This is known as  "right to repair."

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Legislation is currently in the process of being passed in the United Kingdom that will allow consumers to have the right to repair the goods they buy and own. Under the legislation, manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts for products available to consumers for the first time. The European Parliament is considering granting EU consumers a right to repair. Community legislation is in the works to encourage sustainable consumer choices and re-use culture. If passed, the legislation aims further to make information regarding repair readily available. In the United States of America, the pursuit of the right to repair has taken on the form of a movement that is convincing federal and national lawmakers to consider making new laws and updating existing laws that extend the right to repair with regard to a wide variety of electronic products ranging from farming equipment, refrigerators, cell-phones, and even life-saving machinery like hospital ventilators. Tech giant, Apple Inc. is currently in the process of settling a class action law-suit against it that alleged that it is quietly slowing down older phones to promote the sale of new products. The settlement amount is up to 500 million USD. 

Having legislation and policies in place that support the right to repair may arguably strengthen existing consumer protection laws and practices. It is a tenet of such legislation to ensure that consumers have access to products that are durable. Tactful circumvention of this rule by making products designed for obsolescence at the introduction of a new product should under no circumstances be allowed. At the same time, the "throwaway economy" begins to be steadily replaced by a "circular economy" that makes good and sustained use of its e-waste by allowing for easily available repairs that may extend the life-cycle of a product owned by an individual. Legislation and policy respecting the right to repair and banning planned obsolescence could prove to be an invaluable weapon in humanity's fight against the effects of its own destructive endeavours and greed, in order to make earth a more livable planet for future generations.


The writer works at South Breeze School.

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