Why The Right to Repair Your Own Electronics Is Important
The Manufacturer May Not Be Your Only Choice
Have you ever damaged a newer smartphone, only to find the cost to repair it by the manufacturer is more than what it costs to replace? When manufacturers own the only repair shop, they set the price. High repair costs compel people to just buy a new phone instead of repairing the old one.
A quiet movement, called Right to Repair has been gaining momentum over the past few years, allowing better access for third-party electronics repairs, including by consumers. Bowing to pressure from customers, regulators and even President Joe Biden, Samsung recently shared news of consumer repair options for some of their flagship Galaxy products. Apple and Google made similar provisions last year.
More on Right to Repair
Since 2014, the Repair Association has helped 34 states prepare Right to Repair legislation, with New York state passing the first bill in June, 2022. One thing state legislation does is compel manufacturers to make parts and repair manuals available to consumers, so now you can replace that dead battery or broken back glass yourself.
As of 2018, Federal law protects consumers against potential software copyright violations and actions while repairing most personal devices. People can also take their gadgets to a repair person other than the device manufacturer. Even if a device comes with a warranty-voiding sticker or warning regarding unauthorized repairs, that threat is typically bogus under the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act. The U.S. Supreme Court has also weighed in, essentially telling manufacturers they can’t tell consumers what to do once they own a product.
The next focus on legislation may be to compel manufacturers to make equipment more repairable. A newer electronics producer, Framework, has developed a laptop with components that are easily swapped out as needed. One can even upgrade the motherboard. By all counts, Framework has succeeded with minimal compromises to system performance. In fact, they just launched their first motherboard upgrade. There is even a DIY model you can build yourself. Brilliant!
Some are pushing for a repairability rating to be attached to electronics so consumers know how easy it might be to self-repair in the future. Interestingly, Samsung’s repairability seems to be getting worse. Self-repair site IFIXIT ranks the much older Galaxy S4 with a repairability rating of 8 out of 10, while the new S20 Ultra scores a dismal. 3.
It’s the right time
The right to repair creates a competitive market vital to a circular economy, and not just for electronics. Appliances, medical devices and farm machinery are examples of things we should have better access to repairs. The manufacturer benefits at the initial sale, and the consumer puts an item to use. Repairs done locally means work is not outsourced. As more repair options become available, costs go down. Someone else may fix and reuse an unused item. Devices are recycled at the end of their useful life, and stripped of parts for reuse.
According to a report on Digital Trends, humans generate 53 megatons of e-waste annually. In fact, 70% of our solid waste consists of electronic waste. Yet over 80% of parts from a cell phone can be reused. Electronics contain a toxic mix of chemicals and heavy metals—they don’t belong in landfills or incinerators. More community recycling centers are accepting electronics, and there are for-profit companies that will strip your data from a device and salvage parts before appropriately recycling the remaining bits.
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It is still expensive to make a repair yourself, and for some people, not so easy. For example, to replace the battery on my Galaxy S20 Ultra, one must also replace the screen. The kit with both these components, and a small set of tools, costs $231. The repair is not easy. According to IFIXIT, “Every repair starts with painstakingly un-gluing the fragile glass rear cover. Replacing the glued-down battery is tougher than ever, especially with board interconnect cables to work around.”
On the upside, the phone uses identical Phillips screws, only requiring one tool, making the repair easier.
Repair, resale, and reuse strategies keep electronic equipment in service and out of the waste stream, could save consumers money, and expand the timeframe we keep our devices.