With a Right to Repair movement beginning to build in the U.S., even becoming an election issue in Massachusetts in 2012, TreeHugger is arguing that consumers should be able to fix and maintain the equipment and devices they own—despite manufacturers doing everything they can to make it difficult or impossible.
“Repair is a deeply environmental act,” the publication notes. “It prolongs the lifespan of an item and reduces demand for new, conserving resources and saving money. It keeps items out of landfill, which decreases the risk of leaching chemicals and heavy metals, and spares developing nations from having to deal with a surplus of unwanted goods in unsafe conditions. It incentivizes quality production, decreases toxic mining, and creates jobs in independent repair shops.”
TreeHugger might also have added that, with product supply chains extending half-way around the world or more, repair cuts carbon footprints by reducing the need for long distance shipping by sea, air, road, rail, or any combination thereof. It also moderates demand for new supplies of plastics derived from petroleum, at a time when products other than gasoline are emerging as a continuing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and a potential lifeline for the global fossil industry.
“The problem is, manufacturers of many major technologies, from smart phones to computers to tractors to cars, actively inhibit repair,” notes correspondent Katherine Martinko. “They do this by withholding manuals, software, computer codes, and parts, to a point where it’s often easier and cheaper to replace an item than to fix it.”
Farm producers have long been concerned that the John Deere company won’t let anyone but its own technicians work on the expensive tractors it sells. And TreeHugger, citing an article for The Simple Dollar, points a finger at Apple as “the most notorious, having introduced proprietary screws on their iPhones that mean they cannot be repaired at non-Apple shops.”
The result, according to right-to-repair advocate Repair.org, is a Minnesota electronics recycler that can only legally repair less than one-sixth of the donated items it receives “because they cannot get the manuals, diagnostics, tools, parts, and firmware to reuse them.” Most of the items just need minor fixes like screen or battery repairs, not major overhauls.
“If you put every blue whale alive today on one side of a scale and one year of U.S. end-of-life electronic products on the other, the end-of-life electronic products would be heavier,” Repair.org stated. And yet, TreeHugger cites a comparison from the iFixit site that puts rampant, built-in obsolescence into perspective: “Would you buy a car if it was illegal to replace the tires? Would you buy a bike if you couldn’t fix the chain?”