If good things are meant to last, then the right to repair is a no-brainer. So why has it been such a point of contention for some of the biggest brands on the market?
The “right to repair” is challenging some of the biggest tech monopolies around, and may help usher in a new circular mindset to the mainstream—if the movement can hit its stride.
What is “the right to repair”?
Have you ever tried to get your smartphone fixed, only to find out that you have to go through specially-trained technicians (and pay a hefty fee along with them)? And half the time, you have to replace the entire device anyway!
Consumers have been rightfully frustrated with this expensive bottleneck effect for many reasons. It’s inconvenient, expensive, and incentivizes the throwaway culture. It’s the “fast fashion” of electronics; after all, it’s easier to upgrade to another device than make the one in hand last longer.
As you can imagine, this creates an unimaginable amount of waste over time. It’s no wonder that electronic waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the world. Just in the US. nearly 160 million new smartphones are purchased each year (which translates to about 23.7 million TONS of raw material to match).
While some of us may like the “upgrade early” culture, there are plenty of other consumers who simply feel like they have no choice. Apple products in particular have been especially hard to repair at home, and even attempting to do so can invalidate your warranty, which is a hefty price to pay for simply wanting to replace a cracked screen.
Enter the “right to repair” legislation. The goal of this movement is to make it easier (and consequently, cheaper) to fix your own product at home. This means manufacturers must share diagnostic tools, service parts, and ultimately design products in a way that doesn’t require a Ph.D. to do simple repairs.
What are the benefits of right-to-repair legislation?
The “right to repair” isn’t just about fixing our cracked phone screens quicker (although that is a huge perk!) It also comes with the following benefits:
Reducing electronic waste in our landfills. Phones still in our hands are less likely to be tossed away in the trash, which means more space in our landfills (and less processing of those pesky batteries). It also lessens the demand for newer devices, which means less waste from the manufacturing process.
Increased job potential. If you take away the bottleneck effect, more people can become certified to repair these devices, which means more jobs in the community (and more choice for consumers).
Consumer choice and satisfaction. Now if you like the phone you have, you can make it last longer, instead of being pressured to upgrade simply to keep your device functional. This also helps take away the power from some of the biggest monopolies on Earth, like Apple, John Deere, and Microsoft.
Rejecting our “throwaway” culture. Think of the older muscle cars that keep chugging for decades. When we get the chance to take care of something and make it last, we value it more. We practically pair-bond with it. If we had to throw out our KIAs every 50,000 miles, we’d get tired of it pretty quickly. That’s why right-to-repair bills usually have bipartisan support. It’s something everyone can relate to!
California and Apple’s right-to-repair legislation efforts
President Biden kicked it off by signing an executive order in July 2021 that prompted the FTC to draft new right-to-repair regulations, and since then, plenty of states have already taken up the mantle.
Of course, the biggest recent proponent of the right to repair has also been one of the movement’s biggest offenders: Apple!
After nearly a year of pushing back, Apple announced its support for California’s Electronic Right to Repair Act (aka Senate Bill 244), which passed in a 50-0 vote in the state assembly on September 12th. If this bill passes the final vote in the Senate and gets the Governor’s approval, this will make California the third state to pass a right-to-repair act (after Minnesota and New York).
California’s bill would still be a monumental win. For one, California is the land of big tech, meaning that this legislation would target the tech industry at the source. The bill also adds some special stipulations, as it requires companies to expand access to repair materials (including parts, tools, and documentation) for a longer period of time. Products costing $50-99.99 would offer this support for three years, while products over $100 would require that kind of support for seven years.
Seven years is practically an eternity for an iPhone, and yet, Apple, recently announced its support for the bill in a letter to Senator Susan Talamentes Eggman (the author of the bill). Of course, they wanted a few amendments, but the concessions they made were huge. For example, the upcoming iPhone 15 now comes with a USB-C connector (thanks to European legislation) and a titanium chassis that makes it more repairable than other models.
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