There is progress regarding the right to repair, but is this enough?

A string of old phones, tablets, laptops, smart speakers, headphones, and assorted gadgets filter harmful chemicals into the soil around landfills around the world. That is, until they are ready to burn, at which point it will generate plumes of airborne toxins and put people in the developing world at risk – all for the sake of a few nuggets of recovered semi-precious metals.

Fortunately, Right to Fix the Movement is here to combat the growing problem of e-waste. By giving devices a longer life, consumers can reduce the number of times they need to throw a tool in the trash with minimal hope of responsible recycling. In recent months, like the big names appleAnd the SamsungAnd the The Google It issued advertisements supporting greater repairability of its products. Are these initiatives enough to make a real impact on the problem, or are they just rhetoric to defend against impending legislation that could hurt the bottom line for industry giants?

The problem of e-waste on Earth

Right now, humanity is pumping 53 megatons of e-waste annually, only 17% of them are properly collected and documented. Our e-waste generation rate increased by 21% between 2015 and 2020, and rates are expected to continue rising at 4 to 5% annually. Although it consumes only about 5% of the volume of solid waste, E-waste is the source of 70% of its total toxicity. Much of it is shipped to developing countries where substandard processing leads to direct exposure to heavy metals that are toxic to workers. For example, some 50,000 children from Bangladesh participate in the recycling of e-waste83% deal with long-term health problems caused by exposure such as cancer and asthma. 15% die as a result of their participation in the industry. These chemicals also reach the local population by leaching into the soil and water supply, and then back up to humans through food sources.

While there is a lot of local environmental runoff from insufficiently treated e-waste, there is also a missed economic opportunity. Mining metals for electronics is expensive and has a significant environmental impact. Meanwhile, there are completely reusable resources in our old devices that will be wasted. The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change outlines the solutions we can implement to achieve climate goals, and reparability is the list. “Policy makers need to take advantage of potential social and economic opportunities to transition to circular economies that show positive GDP growth and create jobs through shifting to labor-intensive recycling plants and repair services rather than resource extraction activities,” he says. Mitigation Report.

A pile of electronic waste.

The current state of affairs

Apple launched a new wave of manufacturers’ reform initiatives last year. It was a pleasant surprise from a company that has historically been quite hostile to the right to reform. Samsung and Google quickly followed suit by making official OEM parts available for sale.

This is all well and good, but both programs are far from perfect. Samsung’s repair program, for example, inflates the cost of battery replacement by gluing the screen to the battery itself, while Apple’s repair program does not provide replacement ports and connectors, which are particularly prone to failure. These are some of the main fists Louis RossmanLongtime repair attorney and repair technician. He argues that even with these new programs, the reform world is still worse than it was thirty or forty years ago.

“I think they’re all moving to a parts-sequence model, so even if you find an OEM part, it won’t work the same way. Fewer parts are available than before. Fewer manuals are available than before. Lend or lease model instead of own” .

The big manufacturers distorting the definition of proprietary isn’t a new tactic either. Just look at John Deere. The sequencer is a key tool the company uses to complicate the DIY repair process. This makes it that you can’t just take a part from one device and insert it into another. Parts have serial numbers that must match the original in order to work. John Deere defended the practice in a 2015 copyright lawsuit, saying the farmer had only “implied license“to use their tractor. John Deere continues to obstruct farmers’ right to repair their own equipment, and insists on converting service to Monopolistic repair workshops. This gives manufacturers the ability to control who gets the parts they need, and how much they cost.

In the case of Apple, you can see that with the software activation requirement for the back glass, though iPhone 14 is their most salvageable device in years. Cory Doroauthor and special advisor at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, describes Another mechanism used by Apple to achieve this goal.

iPhone X is disassembled.

“Apple does this weird thing where small logos are embossed on parts in the assembly, inside the device. If you send a phone abroad to be stripped, and then ship it back to the US as refurbished parts, it can be blocked at the border due to trademark tarnishing. That’s because it has a tag on it. A trademark of Apple would not be visible to the user without a jeweler’s lens, and the part may not be as sturdy as brand new. Apple routinely asks customs authorities to prevent re-importation of actual Apple parts made in Apple’s factories.”

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the late 1990s laid much groundwork for this type of intellectual property defense. The potential for abuse was obvious to critics at the time, and the DMCA’s use has since expanded far beyond the disc-based media piracy it was originally intended for.

Is a better system possible?

Fairphone has been disassembled into its various parts.
Taylor Dixon/iFixit

Although the big players may not do enough to properly support the right to repair, some underdogs make it a selling point. A rising electronics manufacturing company Domain Develop a laptop with easily interchangeable components. By all accounts, the Framework succeeded with minimal compromises on system performance. In fact, hmm Just launched the first motherboard upgrade. Valve, a major force in PC gaming but relatively new to hardware, offers its repair kit steam surface. then you have Fairphonewhich not only offers devices with a large number of user-replaceable parts, but also ensures that their materials are equitably obtained.

Thea Kleinmaged, creator of circular material chains at Fairphone, tells us, “When a small company like Fairphone can offer free parts, repair information, and long-term software updates for their phones while it’s profitable, why should a legislature refrain from demanding that from every company?”

But Fairphone and other niche players operate on a much different scale than Apple, Samsung and Google. Can Fairphone Standards Apply to Massive Production Volumes for Tech Giants? The framework empathizes with the difficulty of major companies changing direction.

“If your business is built on revenue that comes from a mature and consistent replacement cycle, turning your business into a longer replacement cycle is very difficult. This works in our favor as a startup,” says Nirav Patel, CEO of Framework. In the market and zero return, everything is growth for us. Success for us and our mission is actually to reduce the total revenue for each category we enter by reducing the number of units that need to be manufactured each year.”

Framework laptop whose motherboard has been replaced.

Fairphone agrees that repair service is something manufacturers need to include in their business model. “If a company’s revenue is based solely on hardware sales, they have no interest in producing long-term hardware because they are dismantling their own sales,” says Kleinmagd. One study suggested that American consumers could Save 40 billion dollars a year If they repair their devices instead of replacing them, that would be great for the end users, but it would lose revenue for the manufacturers.

Google and Samsung have found a suitable partner in iFixit To offload some repair responsibilities on. iFixit has already been selling repair kits for some time, and has a sound perspective on the industry’s financial stresses.

There are economic opportunities for manufacturers in a repair-friendly market. Many repair technicians want to purchase official manufacturer parts. Since manufacturers often do not provide parts, independent technicians end up buying third-party parts instead. Manufacturers can get some of that spare parts revenue. Modular hardware also allows manufacturers to enter a new market: aftermarket upgrades. What if people could just buy a new camera module instead of a whole new phone? Elizabeth Chamberlain, director of sustainability at iFixit, tells us that aftermarket auto repair and modernization is a $405.8 billion industry.

Bring about real legislative change

Although promising alternatives exist, Rossman’s overall assessment of the reform world remains bleak. “I think there is progress in terms of people understanding the right to reform as a problem. I think there is no progress in terms of having any kind of real change.” Having the right to choose manufacturers for reform in visible but superficial ways can be their way of persuading end users to back off pressure on political representatives for meaningful legislation.

Other activists with the right to reform are more optimistic. Jay Gordon Byrne, CEO of Reform Association“Europe is promoting design standards for home appliances, TVs, and now cell phones. France has asked for a salvageable index that has global value. We have legislation passed in two states and more is in the works. The Federal Trade Commission has evaluated and rejected opposition ideas outright. It’s been a decade of The work is paying off now. I tell people New York’s Just Reform Act It fixes about 80% of the practical problems of equipment repair covered by law. Another 20% of problems are federal copyright law problems and cannot be changed by states. Obviously, the Fair Reform Act also provides for some categories that we want to expand, especially agricultural equipment and household appliances.”

Doctorow agrees that the division between the state and federal levels complicates progress. “In the United States, there is a precautionary doctrine, whereby federal law invalidates state laws that tread the same territory. Once these victories are achieved at the state level, they tend to succumb to federal legislation. This is what is happening now with federal privacy law. Finally, ad technology companies have joined in The big ones are bound to federal privacy law, but they want it to outpace all state privacy laws, including the strictest ones.”

There are still so many hurdles to fix that it is easy to feel pessimistic. Intense profit incentives and a quagmire of legalities seem stacked to undermine consumer rights and leave a plethora of toxic chemicals in the wake of e-waste. Alternative modes of operation are gaining traction, but they require popular support to spread. If you are interested in being sworn in for reform, you can lend your support for the following legislative actions across the United States.

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