Just over a year ago, we met on a freezing December morning to protest for access to spare parts. (We can safely claim this was the first-ever protest for spare parts.) A couple dozen of us gathered on a dull Brussels pavement with a frowning fridge and a washing machine drum for percussion outside a European Union office, site of a closed vote on product regulations.
And we can infer that our petitions and protest had a mostly positive result. For televisions, dishwashers and washing machines, measures ensuring design for repair, and access to spare parts and documentation for repair professionals were saved from the jaws of industry lobbyists. The Commission officially approved them this year, and the ad-hoc group on the pavement came together to form the European Right to Repair campaign.
Many of us have experienced anecdotally that our appliances and electronics do not last as long as they used to. And evidence bears this out: according to the German Environmental Agency,the percentage of appliances being replaced within just five years due to technical defects more than doubled between 2004 and 2012. We’re drowning in electronic waste, and not only are throw-away products costing the earth in raw materials and carbon emissions, they are killing repair jobs too.
The media widely reported the ground-breaking European “right to repair” measures, probably because the idea that government intervenes to guarantee we can repair our possessions is massively popular, across political divides.
But perhaps some got the wrong idea, that we won our Right to Repair and it’s time to go home. We’re here to set the record straight — because these measures do not represent success, they are merely an important precedent.
A partial Right to Repair — for a few products
In January, the EU voted the first ever “right to repair” laws. As of 2021 televisions, fridges, freezers, washing machines, washer-dryers, dishwashers and lighting products sold in the EU will need to meet minimum repairability requirements. Meanwhile, professional repairers will have access for spare parts for at least 7 years after a product is retired from the market, longer than ever before.
While this may seem enough at first, successful pressure from industry lobby groups has severely limited access to spare parts and repair information for non “professional” repairers.
This means that talented DIYers or community repair groups are excluded.
Additionally, the regulations allow manufacturers to restrict access to repair manuals, as well as spare parts, for the first 2 years from a product’s launch, retaining an initial monopoly on repairs.
Not only do these regulations restrict the Right to Repair to certain categories of individuals, they do not yet include the electronics we use the most: smartphones, computers and accessories. (This is the year we learned that there is no battery replacement for Apple’s earphones “AirPods” making the product as disposable as it gets.)
The year ahead — a crucial year for repair
The year ahead holds many opportunities both at the EU and at country level to see the right to repair become a reality for all, in many more products. European policy makers have promised in the EU Green Deal to offer consumers “durable and repairable” products. We must be ready to stand up to active lobby against repair.
As the world is facing an unprecedented climate, ecological and waste crisis, ambitious action by governments is needed now, in order to have an effect in the few years we have left to reverse the trend.
We’ll push for a fair and inclusive implementation of this year’s “right to repair” measures by fighting for national repair registers in every European member state that do not allow manufacturers the final say on who qualifies as “professional”.
Regarding smartphones and laptops, we’ll be mobilising frustrated consumers and advocating for ambitious criteria on repairability at the European level.
And because false green claims and products which are difficult to repair drive waste in the economy, it’s essential to develop a scoring system on product repairability so that citizens and repairers can be informed at the point of purchase.
A powerful movement
If all of this sounds ambitious, it’s because it is. But there’s never been a better moment to make it happen. We officially launched the European Right to Repair campaign in Berlin last September during the climate strikes that put millions in the streets around the world. Since then, we have been joined by 27 organisations in 10 European countries representing civil society organisations, repair businesses, community repair initiatives, repair labels and public institutions.
The 2019 edition of International Repair Day has been the biggest to date with more than 300 events in 27 countries and we see everyday across Europe a strong interest in repair, for environmental reasons of course but not only. The economic and social benefits are obvious and public support has never been higher as shown when over a hundred thousand European signed petitions asking for the Right to Repair in 2018.
This is a historical opportunity to make the right to repair a reality globally with Europe leading the way with huge positive impacts for the environment, people and the economy. There’s still a lot to get done but we’ve never been more organised and ready.