Europeans want to repair, not replace, their appliances

Jan 9, 2019 by


repair cafe
CC BY 2.0 Karen Blakeman – Busy hands at a repair café in Reading, UK

The Right to Repair movement is rapidly growing – and it can’t come soon enough.

How did it get to this point? We live in a world where we pay thousands of dollars for expensive household appliances and hundreds for electronics and other plug-in devices, and yet when these things break, we cannot repair them. It could be that we lack the knowledge, tools, or access to professionals who know how to fix them, but often it’s because the item was designed never to be opened. Regardless, the point is that the best-intentioned efforts to repair are stymied at every step of the way and this is has significant environmental repercussions (not to mention financial) for a planet whose resources are already being drained at an unsustainable rate.

It is time for this to change. People are fed up and, fortunately, their frustration is being put to good use. Support for “Right to Repair” legislation is gaining traction in Europe, where, in the past month, environment ministers have voted on a series of proposals that would force manufacturers to make their goods longer-lasting and easier to fix. The new standards would apply to lighting, televisions, electronic displays, and large home appliances such as washers, refrigerators, and dishwashers.

The initial vote on refrigerators on December 10 was deemed a success by the folks at iFixit, who described it as “a hopeful commencement to the European Commission’s review of their Ecodesign Directive.” It was agreed that spare parts for refrigerators must be replaceable using commonly available tools and without damaging the product.

“They also voted that spare parts be available for at least 7 years, with parts such as door gaskets and trays available to end-users, and thermostats and temperature sensors available only to professional repair technicians. Professional technicians also receive access to repair information.”

iFixit pointed out that spare parts and repair information should be available to everyone, even if they are not professional repairers. Otherwise it “robs consumers, repair cafés, and independent repair technicians of their repair options.” Still, this is a positive step in a direction we never should have moved away from in the first place. The vote on dishwashers took place yesterday (Jan 8) and washing machines will happen tomorrow (Jan 10).

Manufacturers are not thrilled about it, saying the “proposed rules on repairability are too strict and will stifle innovation” (via BBC). They’ve expressed concern that incorrect repairs could potentially damage appliances and make them dangerous. Why they don’t view it as an opportunity to make a secondary profit on an item they’ve already sold, I do not know. But those complaints ring hollow when one considers the environmental damage caused by excessive resource extraction generated by having to replace non-repairable devices. There is potential for danger everywhere, but extending the life span of appliances is a no-brainer, and arguably a moral duty. Nor do the manufacturers have a leg to stand on when you consider the following statistics, given by the BBC:

  • One study showed that between 2004 and 2012, the proportion of major household appliances that died within five years rose from 3.5% to 8.3%.
  • An analysis of junked washing machines at a recycling centre showed that more than 10% were less than five years old.
  • Another study estimates that because of the CO2 emitted in the manufacturing process, a long-lasting washing machine will generate over two decades 1.1 tonnes less CO2 than a short-lived model.
  • Many lamps sold in Europe come with individual light bulbs that can’t be replaced. So when one bulb packs in, the whole lamp has to be jettisoned.

This is an absurd way to live, and it’s good to see that things are changing. The Manchester Declaration, which was signed and presented at FixFest UK last October, has been an influential force in the political campaign and continues to rally support for Right to Repair legislation. You can read it here and join the fight. (If you live in UK, sign this petition. Petitions for Germany and Italy are also available at that same link.)

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