What is ‘Right to Repair’ Legislation, and Why Is It Important?

Do you truly own something if you can’t get it fixed when it breaks? Right to Repair legislation is pushing back against appliance and electronics manufacturers.

We’ve all probably been there at some point. Items like our washing machines right or smartphones work absolutely fine until three years or so in—and just out of warranty—when they start breaking down. And even if they are under warranty, we often have to pay a heavy price sending them back to the manufacturers in the hope of getting it fixed.

Because manufacturers now seal most units and don’t include repair information, it is almost impossible for us to fix our technology at home. And those companies charge a premium for repair services if the item is out of warranty, so it often costs about the same or not much more to buy a new item. That leads to many of our appliances and electronic goods going to landfill.

All of this is bad news for our environment, as the world is literally deluged with waste. It’s also bad news for our own budgets, as we’re forced to shell out more and more money for goods that once would have lasted a decade or more.

What is the Right to Repair?

Dissatisfaction with this state of affairs has inspired a social and political movement known as the “right to repair”. Groups who support this movement want lawmakers in places like the EU and in the US to force manufacturers to make it easier for us to repair our goods at home or via third-parties in our community.

The BBC reports that European lawmakers are considering a raft of measures that would, to an extent, extend the right to repair for things like washing machines and other large household appliances, as well as lighting and television sets.

These changes, which fall under the EU Ecodesign Directive, are complex and wide-ranging but would include regulations that compel manufacturers to supply spare parts for up to seven years after sale and to give access to repair information.

Supporters say this legislation would be a major first step but that we deserve the right to repair all our products.

The Fight Over Open Repair

Manufacturers are fighting these proposals in places like the EU, and some of their reasoning does make sense.

For example, when it comes to repairing electronics equipment, companies like Apple and Microsoft argue that having a strict manufacturer-led repairs policy helps to ensure the security of the products remains intact. That’s critical for making sure we’re not seeing unscrupulous third parties introducing modifications that can, for example, harvest our data. It also ensures that the manufacturers can more easily maintain the security of their online ecosystems. This, they say, could be compromised if the repair process becomes easier.

However, critics of the manufacturing industries say that they are hiding behind such fears, because when we talk about the right to repair we are, in fact, talking about potentially reducing how much money manufacturers may make from us per sale.

The current system of requiring all repairs to go through the manufacturer actually stifles our ability to repair things within our own communities.

In terms of larger goods—like washing machines and refrigerators—a right to repair poses no security issues whatsoever. Instead, it would translate to being able to replace worn out parts, like faulty pipes and broken drums, without necessarily voiding a warranty.

Why a Right to Repair Matters

There are plenty of reasons why a right to repair does make sense. For one thing, as consumers we surely do have a right to maintain products we bought and fix them for as long as we see fit.

The current system is set up to favor the manufacturer, who has an interest in sealing their products and requiring us to use their services in order to make repairs. They can, in effect, declare a product is no longer viable and force us to buy new products by making spare parts obsolete.

The disposable economy may be lucrative for manufacturers, but it is also tent-poling one of the most significant threats to our world: the production of greenhouse gases that are driving climate change. That’s not to mention the waste problem highlighted above.

In the US, around 18 states have introduced right to repair legislation, and some of those are far more encompassing than what we’re seeing in the EU. In some cases, these laws include items like allowing third-parties to repair smartphones.

So far, the open repair movement is still trying to gain traction, but as things like repair cafes begin to pop up across the US and the world, it seems that the right to repair, which could fix our economy’s wasteful ways and create a more sustainable future, is here to stay.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

40 comments

Caitlin L
Past Member 3 months ago

Finally

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Amanda M
Amanda M3 months ago

I was raised on the "Four R's" (Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle), and not being able to repair something to make it last longer drives me NUTS! Last year we were forced to e-cycle a perfectly good 4-in-one copier simply because the ink absorber was full! When we contacted the local computer repair guy, he said that "he didn't replace ink absorbers because it's cheaper to get a new printer." STUPID! That copier/printer had plenty of life left in it, and for want of a single part, it had to be e-cycled and replaced with another device. Same story with a washing machine several years ago-we had to get a refurbished one that doesn't have a gentle cycle because the motor controlling the spin cycle had worn out and the repair guy said it would cost us more than a new machine to replace it (after charging us $175 just for walking in the door!) The way manufacturers have pushed us from being a society where things were built to last to becoming a disposable society where something should just be thrown away instead of repaired is absurd, disgraceful, and immoral!

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Frances G
Carla G3 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine Andersen3 months ago

tyfs

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Roxana Saez
Roxana Saez3 months ago

TYFS

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Aa M
Aa M3 months ago

cool

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Danuta W
Danuta Watola3 months ago

thank you for sharing

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Caitlin L
Past Member 3 months ago

Thank you

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Debbi W
Debbi W3 months ago

The 'Right to repair' sounds insane. We, the public, have been repairing and having repairs made to our products longer than I've been alive. The idea that consumer products were 'throw away' was ridiculous. I've repaired many things and had others repaired. What can't be repaired should be recycled. It is so wasteful to just toss something because it stopped working. I have two blow driers that need simple repairs. I will find someone who can do it. The parts must be made available by all manufacturers.

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Shirley S
Shirley S3 months ago

Repair YES

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