Some of us are old enough to remember the days when you could easily replace a failed battery in your flip phone. These days, repairing virtually any electronic device – from a smartphone to a game console, microwave, or fan – can cost more than buying a new one.
Manufacturers make it difficult for technicians to access their products, source parts, or update software. Thus, devices are simply thrown away, generating potentially hazardous waste and forcing consumers to purchase new items whose production puts even more strain on the environment.
The industry has long resisted calls from campaign groups for a “right to fix” gadgets. However, the pressure appears to be paying off for some consumers after Apple said it would start making parts and tools available to users to fix their phones.
WHAT IS BEHIND THE RIGHT OF REPAIR MOVEMENT?
Since the first electronics appeared in the 1950s, buyers have sought to keep them alive by repairing or replacing broken parts. Today it is clear that many products are designed to be irreparable.
Manufacturers unnecessarily use non-standard screws, sealants with glue or solder parts, which makes it practically impossible to replace individual components. The increasing complexity of gadgets means that technicians need dedicated manuals and tools that are difficult to access or inaccessible to the public.
Some manufacturers use software to ensure that only their own parts work. They have even been accused of updating software in products to deliberately degrade performance with age. Apple, which claims to have designed “every software version to make sure it runs smoothly on all supported devices,” has nevertheless been the subject of specific grievances.
WHAT ARE THE COMPLAINTS ABOUT APPLE?
Most smartphones have unique components, so the only way to get replacement parts is through their manufacturer. Apple, like other tech companies, typically doesn’t share service parts with repair shops it hasn’t approved. Critics say this has kept the cost of repairing its products artificially high.
When other workshops replace batteries or displays, users are plagued by problems and error messages. Apple claims that unverified parts can lead to poor performance and serious safety issues.
But the tech giant has made some concessions in recent years. In 2019, it launched a program allowing third parties to repair devices that are no longer under warranty and began training more than 265,000 repair technicians. Then, in November, it announced its intention to provide replacement parts so that iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 owners could repair their displays, batteries, and cameras.
Repair rights activists say they are waiting to see the price of new parts, as cost is still the number one reason many users choose to replace their phones instead of repairing them.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
Scrapped electronics generated around 53.6 million tonnes of waste in 2019, and only 17% of them were properly recycled.
These wastes contain heavy metals and compounds, including arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium, which, if not disposed of properly, can put communities at risk of cancer, birth defects. and mutations.
In addition, the production and shipping of new devices to replace those that cannot be repaired, let alone extracting the necessary raw materials, burns energy, often resulting in the emission of responsible greenhouse gases. of global warming.
Researchers estimated in a 2017 study that producing a smartphone, for example, emits 40 to 80 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent, about as much as driving a typical passenger car up to 320 km. .
As more and more people around the world buy cell phones and other electronic devices, the emissions from their production are increasing. The 2017 study authors noted that over the past 50 years, consumption of electronic devices has increased six-fold while the world’s population has only doubled.
HOW ARE TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES RESISTANT TO THE RIGHT TO REPAIR?
Companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Tesla have spent a lot of money on lobbyists arguing that right to repair laws would expose industry secrets, give third parties access to sensitive information, and endanger the safety of consumers.
When Apple officials fought for the right to fix Bill in Nebraska in 2017, they told lawmakers it would turn the state into a “mecca” for hackers. Critics say the industry opposes a free market for repairs because it would lower the prices of this job and encourage more people to get their gadgets repaired, resulting in new sales.
WHAT ARE GOVERNMENTS DOING?
Laws enacted in the European Union and the UK require manufacturers of washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and televisions to ensure parts are replaceable with common tools that consumers can easily use.
The EU plans to regulate cell phones, tablets and computers.
In France, manufacturers must provide a “repairability score” for certain electronic devices. Apple, for example, gave its iPhone 12 Pro Max, released in late 2020, a six on a scale of zero to 10.
In the United States, President Joe Biden has called on federal officials to introduce measures preventing manufacturers from banning repairs to their products by themselves or by third parties. Several U.S. states have considered right to redress bills in 2021, but many have been rejected or rejected, according to consumer groups following the proposals.
THE NEW MEASURES MAKE THE DIFFERENCE?
It’s the beginning. In the UK, manufacturers have a two-year grace period to comply. Rules have limits. Consumer rights advocates complain that they only benefit professional repairers because they do not guarantee the right to repair for consumers and non-profit organizations.
In addition, the current legislative push is focused on physical components, not software. Replacing a defective part may be unnecessary if your device also needs a software update. The regulations also circumvent a practice among manufacturers of selling certain parts only in groups, which keeps repair costs high.
For example, a consumer looking to replace the drum bearings on a washing machine may need to replace the entire drum, making the repair almost as expensive as a new machine.