Should we have the right to repair our electronics? That question has been in the news a lot recently. We are surrounded by technology. Look around the room you’re in right now, and count how many smart electronic items you have, from your phone, computer, the fridge, the coffee machine or TV. Don’t forget all the broken phones you might have hiding in a drawer somewhere (we all have them, you’re not alone). Australia is one of the most electronically wasteful countries in the world, with an average Australian producing 21.7kg of electronic waste per year (here at TGR we recycled 2,500 tonnes of that in 2020).
Repairing our electronics has been intentionally designed or marketed out of the life cycle of many items we own. Our electronics no longer last ten to twenty to forty years, like they did in previous generations. We’re expecting to upgrade our phones in two years, our computers in three years, and our TV’s in four years*. It’s often cheaper and easier to simply buy a new phone or computer. We don’t treat our cars this way, at the first sign of trouble we get it into a mechanic. Buying a new car is a last resort. And yet it’s become the norm to simply replace broken or dying smartphones, computers, TV’s and other items.
Even if you do choose to repair it, there aren’t many affordable options open to the consumer, or the item will become obsolete too quickly to warrant the expense. The culture around repair within the electronics market is clearly broken and needs addressing, we should all have the right to repair our goods, regardless of what they are.
A productivity commission has been investigating how Australia can make this right to repair more accessible and reform the industry to better meet consumer needs.
The right to repair covers a variety of factors:
- independent repairers and consumers having access to the necessary parts, information and equipment needed to repair products, including access to embedded software in products
- consumers having the choice of repairer, with price competition in the repair market
- consumers being able to buy products that are repairable and durable
- repair/reuse of products to reduce e-waste and encourage the growth of the circular economy.
By creating and enforcing new right to repair laws, consumers will have greater control over the technology they own. It also forces manufacturers to make items that CAN be repaired, and won’t become obsolete as quickly. This will save the consumer money in the long run AND be one step toward slowing down our ever growing waste problem. According to the European Environment Bureau if we can extend the average lifespan of our phones by one year, it would be the equivalent of taking 200 million cars off the road*. Regulatory pressure is a key underpinning for the circular economy to be promoted in Australia, and it is clear that right to repair laws will be such a driver.
The productivity commission has released a draft report with a variety of findings and recommendations. You can read it here: Right to Repair draft report
In the report, the commission highlights a lack of competitive repair technicians and parts supplies as a significant barrier to repair.They’ve recommended amending copyright laws to allow independent repairers access to tools and information which is currently unavailable to them to remove this barrier. Another key recommendation is to stop companies from voiding warranties when a consumer has taken their product to a repairer not specifically authorised by the manufacturer. A voided warranty is another clear barrier to consumers’ right to repair and this measure would go a long way to reinstating it.
The report extends to other aspects of the circular economy, in recommending that the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme be amended to allow for repair and re-use, rather than covering recycling only. And to track better where ewaste ends up by using GPS tracking on collected ewaste. This directly addresses the circular economy, and by promoting a healthy repair culture within the electronics market, complementary outcomes would be achieved.
The report also recommends that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should develop and publish estimates of the minimum expected durability for products within major categories of common household products. This will allow for a framework in which consumers can reasonably expect items to be repaired, even when it’s outside the warranty period provided by the manufacturer.
If the commission’s recommendations are turned into policy, we’ll be looking at a new future for how we consume electronics. Right to repair laws aren’t enough though. Consumers and businesses must also change their mode of operations. Consumers must shift their expectations to focus more on fixing than buying new, and businesses must facilitate this to build a more sustainable tomorrow.
The productivity commission will be handing in their final report to the government later this year.
*According to Choice.com.au average lifespan expectancy for budget range items.
*Statistics predominantly measuring European countries.