Sustainable consumption and the vital role of the right to repair

Misiunea Apollo 13, lansată în aprilie 1970, s-a transformat imediat într-o luptă pentru supraviețuire.  Rezervoarele de oxigen au explodat, urmând faimoasa misiune de salvare. Lumea întreagă își ținea respirația, în timp ce de la o distanță de 200.000 de mile se căutau soluții pentru problemele tehnice. Inginerii și astronauții au lucrat împreună pentru a-și da seama cum să manevreze și să navigheze o navă spațială grav avariată, să găsească modalități inovatoare de conservare a energiei, oxigenului și apei și, în cele din urmă, să descopere cum să repornească un modul de comandă care nu fusese proiectat pentru a fi oprit în spațiu.

If you’re tempted by the new range of mobile phones, laptops or game consoles, consider the following image: the planet is suffocated by approximately 40 million tons of electronic waste annually. According to The World Counts estimates, that’s like throwing away 800 laptops every second.

We are a generation obsessed with new gadgets, which we change as easily as we buy new clothes. On average, a user replaces their mobile phone once every 18 months. Annually 300 million computers and 1 billion mobile phones enter production, and growth is estimated at at least 8% per year.
At the same time, electronic waste represents 70% of all toxic waste, of which only 12.5% ​​is recycled, over 85% ending up as waste containing hundreds of substances, many of which are toxic: mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, selenium or chrome. 

How did we get here?

The beginning of the 20th century was marked by the spread of automobiles, made possible by unprecedented innovations. In the USA, 1908 marked the beginning of fierce competition: Henry Ford presented the Model T, and William Durant founded General Motors. The idea that continuous changes to a product generate increasing demand by replacing the older generation with the new was widely implemented by Alfred P. Sloan, CEO of General Motors, who made the annual model change a strategy to increase sales compared to competitors. By the 1950s, many manufacturers in various industries had adopted strategies similar to General Motors to increase revenue, with planned wear and tear and reduced repairability. At the same time, the economic boom that followed the Second World War meant unprecedented economic prosperity for many Western countries through a combination of factors such as increased production capacity, which led to higher wages and job opportunities. People had disposable income and were encouraged, through increasingly aggressive advertising, to spend it. Moreover, the availability of consumer credit and credit cards made it easier for individuals to purchase products and services, which fueled spending growth. All of this led to an identity of the 20th century consumer, for whom consumer goods were no longer just functional, but statements of status and lifestyle. The idea of ​​”keeping up with the Joneses,” the connection between one’s possessions and personal identity, has become a veritable culture. Consumerism is therefore a multidimensional phenomenon, influenced by economic, social, technological and cultural factors. While it brought higher living standards for many and drove economic growth, it also raised concerns about overconsumption, indebtedness and environmental protection.

The Digital Age and the Right to Repair

In the digital age, from the late 20th century to the present, the Internet and electronic commerce have revolutionized consumerism. Today, online shopping platforms, social media and targeted digital advertising have made it easier than ever for consumers to access and purchase goods and services. The roots of consumerism are thus deeply intertwined with the evolution of modern society, and its impact continues to be the subject of debate and analysis.
Intentionally or not, manufacturers make it difficult to repair a product by the way it is designed. We’ve all faced this situation, especially with modern technology, a device with a chip inside is rarely repairable. As products become more difficult to repair, the right to repair has gained significant importance in contemporary society.
According to Britannica, the “right to repair” is a concept that the owner of equipment, such as a vehicle or an electronic device, should be allowed to upgrade, modify or repair it himself, instead of being forced to contact the manufacturer of the equipment to repair it or purchase a replacement.
A debate grew around this topic in the 2010s, with efforts to legislate the right to repair gaining momentum and corporate opposition. The movement soon led to a series of legislative initiatives aimed at ensuring that individuals and independent repair firms have legal rights, access to the information and documentation, tools and spare parts needed to repair and maintain the products they own. This right covers a wide range of products, from smartphones and laptops to tractors and appliances, for which manufacturers should not use software locks or other measures to prevent people or repair shops from diagnosing and fixing problems, and repairing a product or seeking help from an independent professional should not void the product warranty.
In 2014, Massachusetts became the first American state to pass a law in the field of automobiles. This law required manufacturers to provide access to information for diagnosis and repair, allowing independent repair shops and vehicle owners to have the same data as authorized dealers.
France led the movement in Europe, in 2015 passing legislation requiring manufacturers of certain electronic devices to provide repair information and sell spare parts, a law that has been expanded to cover a wider range of products today. In 2016, the German government proposed a bill to improve consumer access to spare parts and repair information. Sweden implemented tax incentives for repair services in 2017, making them more financially attractive for consumers, along with initiatives to extend the life of electronic products.
As of 2021, more than 25 US states have enacted right-to-repair legislation for consumer electronics, particularly smartphones and laptops. In March 2021, the European Parliament voted in favor of the “Right to Repair” resolution, which imposes measures to make repairs more accessible and includes requiring manufacturers to make spare parts and repair information available to consumers and independent repairers.
The movement continues to evolve, with advocacy and legislative efforts underway in various countries, the right to repair discussion expanding to cover a wide range of products, from electronics to farm machinery. The European Union has regulations on the agenda to improve the repairability of products and reduce e-waste.

The right to repair and sustainability

The right to repair is closely related to consumerism, given that it challenges a culture with a history that exceeds a century and encourages a more sustainable, responsible and economically advantageous approach to consumer products. Many consumers express their support for right-to-repair legislation. For example, a 2021 Consumer Reports poll found that 88 percent of respondents favored such laws.
At the same time, it empowers consumers to be more discerning and inventive in their consumption choices, aligning with humanity’s changing values ​​and priorities, given that, according to a 2020 survey by iFixit and Greenpeace, 82 % of respondents said they would rather repair a broken device than replace it, and over 70% of respondents believe manufacturers should make products easier to repair.
Electronics repair and refurbishing can create jobs, support local economies and contribute to environmental sustainability, which is why Green eDIH supports its partners’ initiatives to innovate to enable reuse and extend the life of devices, which contribute to reducing carbon footprint associated with production and waste disposal.
These facts and figures highlight the growing interest and support for the right to repair in digital technologies and the potential environmental and economic benefits it can bring. Researchers, business people and policy makers are working to address barriers to the right to repair and create a more sustainable approach to the consumption and maintenance of digital devices.
The European Right to Repair movement is closely aligned with efforts to reduce e-waste, promote sustainability and empower consumers by giving them greater control over the repair and maintenance of their products. As the EU focuses on creating a Circular Economy Action Plan and the Green Deal, the right to reparation is expected to remain a central component of European policy and legislation for years to come.
Green eDIH supports strategies that keep equipment out of the waste stream as much as possible, considering repair, recycling and reuse as good environmental policies. The subject is particularly complex, with varied implications, from the design of the equipment to the services offered. For this reason, we will continue to present various themes that converge towards the same goal: sustainability by reducing e-waste.

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