The right to repair has been a hotly debated topic in the world of tech and gadgetry for a long time now. Hotly debated insofar as a lot of consumers are in favour, while companies and lobby groups are opposed. Put very simply, the right to repair does what it says on the tin. You have the right to repair or modify your devices without going back to the manufacturer. It essentially demonopolizes the ability to fix anything from your phone to your lawnmower or your washing machine.

Now look, we’ve all broken a phone screen or two in our time and I’m sure we’ve all been to one of those shops, usually off the beaten path, for a cheap repair (or at least one that’s cheaper and faster than “official” channels). The issue with this is that going to these shops (or sometimes even repairing the device yourself) voided the device’s warranty so it could not be repaired by the manufacturer if something worse happened.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there

That’s all due to change now thanks to a ruling by the EU in November 2020 which came into effect last week. This new ruling basically states that any company selling consumer electronics in the EU will have to allow their devices to be worked on with conventional tools and will have to be shipped with a repair manual to allow consumers to carry out their own handiwork. The news is good for our non-EU neighbours as well since this ruling also applies to companies operating in the UK. As well as making your electronics easier to operate on, the legislation also stipulates that spare parts for devices must remain available for at least 10 years after the initial manufacture date. For example, if you buy a brand-new Samsung TV tomorrow, you can be guaranteed that you’ll still be able to buy a replacement stand, remote, or even screen for it in 2031.

This sounds great, but what’s the catch?

This all sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there are a few small catches to this particular piece of legislation that are still being hotly “debated”. First and foremost, small electronic devices like phones, laptops, and tablets aren’t covered (yet). This means that if you crack your screen or if there’s an issue with charging, you’ll still have to go to the manufacturer or one of the “dodgy” shops. Thankfully this issue is being targeted by a large number of advocacy groups and politicians in the US where Apple, Sony, and Nintendo have already gotten in a lot of hot water over their warranty policies, so the tide is beginning to turn.

Right to Repair protests outside the European Commission HQ in Brussels

Secondly, there will still be some repair jobs that consumers cannot do themselves. Some repair jobs or part refitting will have to be done by professional companies. To me, though, this seems like a benefit in disguise. Hopefully, a bit of competition will drive repair prices down for certain jobs. Also, I’m not sure I trust myself with some more expensive or finicky repairs like a washing machine drum or a heating element in a hair straightener.

Will this have an environmental impact?

This is all good for you and good for me. But what about us? What about how this will affect the wider community, the EU, or even the planet? Well, it’s nothing but positives from that perspective! In 2016 the EU produced an estimated 12.3 metric tons of e-waste, and that figure is growing by 2% every year.  As we’ve highlighted before, there are nearly 5 million unused phones in Ireland alone. This figure is only made worse by the fact that only about 20% of that waste is recycled. The rest is just sitting in landfills somewhere doing who knows what to the planet. Thankfully, this legislation will lead us to a more circular economy, one where people will be encouraged to repair their devices instead of replacing them.

The demand that there be replacement parts available for at least a decade will also cut down on planned obsolescence by large manufacturers. For example, a manufacturer may place a heating coil in a hairdryer that they know will only last up to 5 years, meaning the consumer would have to buy an entirely new unit after that time. Now, though, we can simply buy a new element and fix the device ourselves, saving us both money and a little bit of e-waste!

A look at the new efficiency labels we can expect to see on our goods

Finally, in conjunction with this legislation there has been a new framework for efficiency ratings introduced that will raise the standards for electronic good across the EU. Currently we have an A-G scale with A being the hypothetical most ecological device and G being the least. However, in recent years it became apparent that the overwhelming majority of goods were rated at an A or above (A+, A++ and the coveted A+++). This led to the EU passing legislation to raise standards and essentially reset the clock to push for more and more efficient and ecological goods. Essentially this means that goods that were previously rated at an A grade may be classified as a C or a D going forward.

Fight for what’s right!

So there you have it, a quick whistle-stop tour of what your new Right to Repair means for you and for our planet. Are you going to try your hand at some home repairs next time the dishwasher is giving you grief? Will you be hanging on to your telly for a little longer if some of the paneling is wearing out? If you want to know more about the ongoing fight for your Right to Party…er…Repair check out to see what’s being done currently and what you can do to help out. Happy repairing!

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With passions ranging from video games and emerging tech to superhero movies and fantasy TV, Alex is always up to date about what's happening in the nerd world and ready to bring the news to the masses.