The British government launched a new set of rules (‘right to repair’) that require manufacturers to build their products in a way that enables customers to repair them without having to rely on the self-same manufacturers.
Under current legislation, producers need to render spare parts accessible to people buying electronic appliances. Since consumers are liable to throw away old phones or laptops when the battery or hard-drive malfunctions because parts are either difficult to retrieve (when they are glued together within a casing, for instance) or simply unavailable, this move can be seen as a national hallmark in the fight against e-waste.
It’s an opinion shared by Adam French from consumer group Which? who argues that thenew legislation should ‘ensure [that] products last longer’.
For now, only parts that are necessary for ‘simple repairs’ will be made available to your average customer while those needed for complex repairs such as door hinges for a washing machine or replacement trays for fridge-freezers will only be able to be sourced by professional repair services.
The onus is on manufacturers to make product parts available for at least ten years, irrespective of whether or not the specific item is still a part of their product range. Ready availability of parts is expected to usher in a greater overall commitment to sustainable lifestyles on the side of consumers and supposed to extend the lifecycle of electronic products, preventing unnecessary e-waste from ending up in landfills.
Yet environmental experts are quick to point out that these developments are only a small step in the right direction- so long as not all parts are available to consumers, there can be no talk of a ‘legal right to repair’.
Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said: ”There is also no guarantee that spare parts and repair services will be affordable, so considerable barriers remain to making this the easiest, default option”.
The new legislation could also serve to make white goods- large home appliances that are usually white, ranging from fridges and dishwashers to heaters and stoves-more expensive.
Beyond monetary considerations, much depends on consumer attitude- research suggests that many still don’t feel comfortable enough to take advantage of the increased availability of spare parts. Of the kitchen appliances covered by the new legislation, Britons are most comfortable repairing their washing machines (22%) but far less ready to repair their dishwashers (16%).
Globally, the right to repair movement is gaining momentum. Recently the European Parliament voted in favour of laws that will ensure that electrical goods such as smartphones, tablets and laptops can be repaired for up to ten years while later this week, US President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to draw up rules on the repair of farming equipment.