EU Endorses Repair as Environmental Win: Repair Roundup Week of August 6

EU Endorses Repair as Environmental Win: Repair Roundup Week of August 6

As part of its transition to a ‘circular economy,’ the EU unveiled its right to repair strategy in hopes of reducing carbon emissions and e-waste. Researchers from the European Commission are recommending a legal right to repair, getting customers parts and tools, as well as forcing companies to embrace repairable design.

Each week, we will bring you the top repair news from around the world, curated for iFixit by the folks over at the Fight to Repair blog.

The Big News:

EU Says Repair is a Circular Economy Essential

The European Union this week unveiled its right to repair strategy in hopes of reducing carbon emissions and e-waste. Researchers from the European Commission are recommending a legal right to repair, getting customers parts and tools, as well as forcing companies to embrace repairable design.

The EU developed its Circular Economy Action Plan in 2015 as it aimed to move Europe from a linear to a circular economy. As part of this effort, they released a report titled “Towards Effective Right to Repair for Electronics” that focused on the benefits of implementing the right to repair throughout the European economy.

At the time, the authors of the report identified repair as a core piece of their strategy to stem the tide of waste and emissions that are produced by manufacturing electronics. By extending the life of devices, people will hold onto their phones longer and need new phones less frequently, which means fewer devices will need to be manufactured. 

To make this happen, they make it clear that legislation is needed. Companies that make devices need to be forced in the direction of more repairable designs and more robust electronic aftermarkets, while consumers should be given parts and information to hold onto their devices for longer.

Circular economy graphic, showing recovery at every product life stage
The circular economy means that we recover as much material and energy value as possible at every stage of the lifecycle of a thing.

Consumer Electronics Rack Up Social and Environmental Harm

When you open the beautifully packaged smartphone or laptop that you’ve been waiting months for, it comes in a box to tell a story. A story about how it’s going to make your life better—whether through productivity, creativity, or countless other benefits. The story we are never told is about the thousands of tons of ore that need to be unearthed from the ground by workers across the world to make the device—nor are we told about the toxic waste it will create when it is dropped in landfills after being ditched for the newest model.

To produce today’s electronics, companies require materials like aluminum, copper, lead, zinc, palladium, silver—the list goes on. E-waste is a problem we are all likely familiar with, with the impacts impacting the environmental and public health of the communities close to waste sites. If the EU keeps its pace of consumption up, the authors note that “solid waste production is set to increase by 70% by 2050.”   

Bin full of Apple and other electronic devices
Less than 20% of e-waste gets recycled, and of the stuff that does, we’re only able to recover a fraction of the metals and plastics that make it up.

That’s a problem, because the vast majority of carbon emissions fall into the production phase of extracting materials from the earth and making them into phones, laptops, and more—not the use of the devices once they are manufactured and sold. 

The report cites an electronics right to repair as a key tool in slowing down the production of new devices which are creating these environmental and social harms, and lays out key recommendations for expanding and normalizing repair in Europe.

What’s the Hold Up?

It’s one thing for an entity like the European Union to promote the right to repair; it’s an entirely different story to implement it. The report signals a number of difficult, but not impossible, barriers to overcome in order to enact these changes:

  • Laws: Difficulty in laws around trademarks, patents, copyrights, and liability all create friction in implementing a legislative right to repair.
  • Design: Consumer electronics are not designed to be repaired by their users
  • Aftermarket parts and tools: Given the previous two barriers, the ecosystem for making repair parts and tools accessible needs to mature and expand to increase the availability of repair.
  • Repair cost and time: The time and money spent to repair an existing device are often seen as inconveniences while buying a new device is seen as an upgrade, especially if you don’t have access to quality repair services or tools to repair yourself.
  • Lobbyists: Large companies work hard to kill right to repair legislation.

In spite of these barriers, the future of right to repair looks promising in Europe. The report outlines several recommendations to kick start repair across the EU:

  • Device durability: Creating durability requirements for devices through laws so devices can be repaired both more easily and less frequently.
  • Eco-design: Ditching the hazardous materials that go into electronics for safer substances while also promoting things like ‘design-for-disassembly’ and modular design.
  • Spare parts and tools: Expand the availability of the things people need to fix their stuff.
  • Information: Make information on repairability available to consumers at the time of purchase, such as repairability scores like those implemented in France.
  • Incentivize repair: Limit subsidies by telecom companies, creating programs that subsidize repair, and reducing taxes on repair services.
  • Green public procurement: Governments buy a lot of computers and phones, they can lead the way by spending their money on repair-friendly companies.

Other News

eBay’s Rules for Refurbished Tech Terrify Right-to-Repair Activists (KnowTechie)

Recent changes to eBay’s terms threaten to upend that relationship, with some recyclers warning about potential market-distorting effects and a lack of transparency. Prospective members of the ‘eBay Refurbished’ program must first sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement (MNDA).

John Bumstead is also a well-respected contributor to iFixit Answers, our question-answer forum. And he spoke with us back in 2014 about how he created and grew his business.

Vendors aren’t required to join the ‘eBay Refurbished’ program. It simply means they can’t use the ‘refurbished’ category. Instead, they must categorize their wares as ‘used.’ It sounds like a small, even trivial, detail. But to resellers, it’s a big deal. 

John Bumstead, founder of the Minnesota-based Apple refurbisher RDKL Incorporated, said, “Creating an army of silent, approved, and promoted sellers, and pitting it against regular sellers, constitutes a predatory Amazon-like environment,” said Bumstead. He adds that it “threatens to disrupt the eBay ecosystem.”

DEF CON Does Repair (Fight to Repair)

A panel at this year’s DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas will tackle the (strong) cybersecurity arguments for- and (lame) arguments against the right to repair. DEF CON is the world’s premiere hacking conference, and has attracted the brightest minds in the hacking and information security communities to highlight the cybersecurity risks in implantable medical devices, voting machines, ATMs, cars, and more.

To state it simply: DEF CON is where the cybersecurity community (not to be confused with the cybersecurity industry) comes together to talk about the things that really matter—to mess around and break stuff, to debate and discuss, to imagine a better (and more secure) future and do the hard work of making it happen. That’s why I’m happy to announce that the right to repair is on the agenda DEF CON this year, with a panel titled: Brazil Redux: Short Circuiting Tech-Enabled Dystopia with the Right to Repair.

Welcome to the Throw-Away Economy (The Citizen)

The Throw-Away Economy (TAE) model may be enriching the fat cats but it is disastrous for the environment; in the long run it also does not make economic sense because it mis-allocates resources for unnecessary consumption. There is a pressing need to move to a “circular economy” business model of reuse, repair, and recycle.

TAE refers to the prevalence of consumer goods ( “non-durables” in marketing parlance) which only last for a short period of time. When they stop working we throw them away and replace them with new goods. Included in this genre are nearly all electronic goods, computers, phones, watches, music systems, medical devices, TVs, modems, etc. Also included are packing materials, gift wrappings, thermocol, and single use plastic items.

Warranty void if damaged sticker
“Warranty void if damaged” stickers like this are illegal in the US.

Today, “built-in obsolescence” is part of the business model of every manufacturer: the product is deliberately designed to last for the minimum number of years that the market can sustain without revolting, and then has to be thrown away and replaced ( the reason why you cannot get a new battery for your phone). Part of this devilish strategy is to make it impossible for the product to be repaired. There are various devious ways in which this is done: impose “do not touch” warranty conditions, deny product specs or information to third-party repair shops, non-supply of spare parts. The consumer is ultimately left with no option but to junk his old item and buy a new one. 

Opinion: Why Our ‘Right to Own’ Is Important in a Subscription-Based World (The Globe and Mail)

When we live under this tyranny of subscriptions, we risk marching into that very realm that years ago we thought was only comedy—a clown world, a metaverse in real life. Many of these new subscriptions are unremarkable. Taco Bell’s taco subscription, for example, is really just a clever discount for tacos. But there’s also a new, different type of subscription: the type that, in order to exist, changes the very nature of what is being sold.

A subscription is inherently an unequal relationship. As more items get swallowed by that business model, more of our lives end up ruled by what is in the best-case scenario a benevolent dictator. Absent any recognition of that, this tyranny of subscriptions points toward a future in which we lose all concept of ownership and property rights and become, effectively, digital serfs.

For every software subscription a company sells, it should also offer an own-for-life alternative. Many companies do make available some of that, such as Tesla, Microsoft, and even BMW. But we should enshrine such alternatives in law before they start doing away with them, as Adobe has done with Photoshop and nearly every other product.

Business Is Booming for “Second Life” Markets (CALIFORNIA18)

New entrants to the reuse and repair market are offering items from reconditioned bicycles (Upway, Saikle) to smartphones (Back Market). Others sell the parts needed to do the work yourself (Spareka). These companies must “evangelize” the market, according to the established jargon, or in other words, change mores: “Quality refurbished products, accompanied by a guarantee: it is with this type of offer that we can compete with the purchase of new devices.”

The disruption of production chains, a consequence of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, also weighs in the balance. Faced with the shortage of equipment, manufacturers such as Samsung or Apple are seeking to have control of their product flows by offering trade-in devices. They must provide distributors with the spare parts they need for reconditioning purposes… but nothing prevents them from setting prohibitive prices. Thus, some parts are overpriced for refurbishers who are not Apple certified. Contacted by L’Express, the European Commission says it wants to fight the greenwashing through a Right to Repair directive, but has not planned any specific action at this stage on the crucial point of the price of parts.

Players in the second life are more broadly coming up against the resistance of brands, which “make 99% of their turnover with new products”, deplores Thibaud Hug de Larauze, CEO of Back Market. Further legislation will be needed to force manufacturers to cooperate more with repairers. The Dutch manufacturer Fairphone is leading the way, with its smartphones whose parts can be replaced with a simple screwdriver. In Sweden, the public authorities tax half the cost of repairs to encourage individuals to extend the life of their objects. 

20 Years of Copyright Wars (Gizmodo)

You may own the device, but it pwns you: you can’t remove that DRM without facing a prison sentence, so the manufacturer can booby-trap its gizmos so that any time your interests conflict with its commercial imperatives, you will lose. As Jay Freeman says, DMCA 1201 is a way to turn DRM into a de facto law called “Felony Contempt of Business Model.” The DRM Wars rage on, under many new guises. These days, it’s often called the “Right to Repair” fight, but that’s just a corner of the raging battle over who gets to decide how the digital technology that you rely on for climate control, shelter, education, romance, finance, politics and civics work.

The copyright maximalists cheered DRM on as a means to prevent “piracy,” and dismissed anyone who warned about the dangers of turning our devices into ubiquitous wardens and unauditable reservoirs of exploitable software bugs as a deranged zealot.

The Copyright Wars have always been premised on the notion that tech companies should be so enormous that they can afford to develop and maintain the invasive technologies needed to police their users’ conduct to a fine degree. The Anti-Monopoly Wars are premised on the idea that tech and entertainment companies must be made small enough that creative workers and audiences can fit them in a bathtub… and drown them

Apple’s Self-Service Repair—Not Everybody’s Cuppa Tea (Technofication)

Not everyone can benefit from the scheme, as stated on the official Apple website. Self-Service Repair is designed for those who have the technical skills and know-how to restore electronic equipment on their own. The healthiest and most dependable approach to obtain a fix is to go to a qualified service provider with licensed experts and original Apple components. I’m afraid that the advice will just go unheeded, and broken iPhone displays will be commonplace all across the globe.

I’ve never attempted to fix an iPhone display before, however, I sat down to view one of iFixit’s superb iPhone 12 display repair tutorials. Amateur repair personnel might be in for a rude awakening if they get their hands on it. In order to replace the display on an iPhone 12 or flagship model, iFixit recommends using at least nine different tools and supplies, as well as ensuring that the battery is completely drained. Why? There is a lithium-ion battery within every smartphone that, if pierced, represents a fire threat or worse.