When you buy a product, you expect to be able to repair it. The problem is that many modern products are designed in such a way that you cannot repair them. Vital parts are inaccessible. Or you have to go to the manufacturer, who might just give you a new one. The end result: millions of expensive products, from cars to phones to appliances, end up in landfills. In extreme cases, manufacturers actively prevent you from repairing their products at local mechanics.
You can understand why some manufacturers prefer the world to work that way. If you can’t fix your washing machine, you’ll have to buy a new one. But it’s a hidden cost for all of us – and a huge source of avoidable waste.
Therefore, many countries and jurisdictions are enacting laws that establish your right to repair products. Last month, the EU approved a “right to repair” policy. In the United States, 26 states have introduced bills.
But Australia is dragging its heels.
So what is the delay?
In July 2021, Australia approved its first right to repair, a mandate data sharing scheme to allow independent technicians access to diagnostic information. This was a good start, but limited to one sector.
Here the possibility of giving independent repairers was pointed out
better access to repair supplies and more competition for repair services, without endangering public safety or discouraging innovation.
In October last year, the new environment minister Tanya Plibersek and state environment ministers released a statement joint commitmentcalling on Australia to recognize the magnitude and urgency of environmental challenges and
design waste and pollution out, keep materials in use and stimulate markets to achieve a circular economy by 2030.
A circular economy would effectively put an end to waste. Instead, waste streams are converted back into usable products. Many other countries are working to minimize waste.
Product design is also an essential way to prevent waste from ending up in landfills or, even worse, in the oceans. Redesigning products to make them repairable extends their lifespan, value and functionality.
Labor has made positive noises. But we have yet to see the promised action.
Read more: The Productivity Commission has released proposals to strengthen Australians’ right to repair. But do they go far enough?
What are other countries doing?
A lot of.
America’s proposed right to repair laws vary by state in terms of what industries they cover. They range from the very first ever right to repair of farm equipment in Colorado to comprehensive consumer-oriented laws.
Less than a month ago, the European Union approved a right to repair policy aimed at making it easier to access repairs for appliances and electrical goods. EU Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders assessed the laws would save consumers €176 (A$288) billion over the next 15 years. But consumer advocates say the laws don’t go far enough.
Canada is watching it reform copyright law to introduce a consumer right to repair electronics, home appliances and agricultural machinery.
India is too explore right to restorative laws.
Why have these laws lasted so long?
The most important reason? Is it just government inaction or industry resistance?
There is a long and predictable opponents list to the right to fix laws.
In general, the opposition comes from the manufacturers who see these laws as a blow to their bottom line.
Companies often deny that there are obstacles to repairing their products. Or they are concerned about intellectual property, safety, security or environmental concerns.
But there is a simpler reason behind all of these arguments: Companies would earn less if consumers repair a product instead of buying a new one, and less if they lose control over who can repair specific products.
Right now, companies win and consumers lose. When companies can instruct you to only use an authorized repair center, there is no risk of competition reducing the cost of repairs.
Manufacturers often respond with industry-led, voluntary initiatives such as the recent agreement between tractor giant John Deere and lobby group American Farm Bureau.
The problem is, voluntary agreements often don’t work and regulation is necessary for the manufacturers to keep their promises.
As Australia grapples with its thorny plastic waste crisis, this is a timely reminder of the need to move faster. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek used the collapse of the soft plastics recycling company Redcycle appeal to the industry to do more recycling – or to see new recycling regulations.
What would the repair laws mean for Australia?
If we obtain the right to repair, we can:
- expect new products to be repairable
- expect to be able to repair products anywhere – not just in manufacturing centers.
This would save us all money and prevent significant amounts of landfill waste.
If we return to the old ways of repairing instead of throwing products away, we would also bring about a rebirth of repair-based businesses, job growth and upskilling.
But these benefits will only come if the government ensures that such laws are binding.
Read more: In rural America, right-to-repair laws are at the forefront of a backlash against growing corporate power