The ‘Right to Repair’ Movement Gains Ground
If you buy a product — a car, a smartphone, or even a tractor — and it breaks, should it be easier for you to fix it yourself?
Manufacturers of a wide range of products have made it increasingly difficult over the years to repair things, for instance by limiting availability of parts or by putting prohibitions on who gets to tinker with them. It affects not only game consoles or farm equipment, but cellphones, military gear, refrigerators, automobiles and even hospital ventilators, the lifesaving devices that have proved crucial this year in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, a movement known as “right to repair” is starting to make progress in pushing for laws that prohibit restrictions like these.
In August, Democrats introduced a bill in Congress to block manufacturers’ limits on medical devices, spurred by the pandemic. In Europe, the European Commission announced plans in March for new right-to-repair rules that would cover phones, tablets and laptops by 2021.
And in more than 20 statehouses nationwide, right-to-repair legislation has been introduced in recent years by both Republicans and Democrats.
Over the summer, the House advanced a funding bill that includes a requirement that the Federal Trade Commission complete a report on anti-competitive practices in the repair market and present its findings to Congress and the public.
The goal of right-to-repair rules, advocates say, is to require companies to make their parts, tools and information available to consumers and repair shops in order to keep devices from ending up in the scrap heap. They argue that the rules restrict people’s use of devices that they own and encourage a throwaway culture by making repairs too difficult.
They also argue that it’s part of a culture of planned obsolescence — the idea that products are designed to be short-lived in order to encourage people to buy more stuff. That contributes to wasted natural resources and energy use at a time when climate change requires movement in the opposite direction to rein in planet-warming emissions.
Manufacturing a new device or appliance is still largely reliant on polluting sources of energy — electricity generated from burning fossil fuels, for instance — and constitutes the largest environmental impact for most products.
文／Paola Rosa-Aquino 譯／陳韋廷、核稿／樂慧生